Throwback Thursday: The Glass Castle
Author: Jeannette Walls
Number of Pages: 288
My Rating: 5
Summary from GoodReads.com:
The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.
The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.
The Glass Castle is truly astonishing–a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.
This was one of those books that I had heard of throughout the years but didn’t know anyone who had read it so I never realized what I was missing out on. One day, I saw it at my local thrift store and felt the instant need to snatch it up and start reading.
The Glass Castle is a memoir about the author’s childhood and growing up essentially homeless for a big chunk of her life. Sometimes memoirs can read slow and are very fact-based without much life in them. Not this one. Jeannette Walls’ writing style was fast-paced and attention grabbing from the first sentence. Her story was very straightforward and not whiny at all, even though she went through some things that we couldn’t even imagine. The way she tells her story, with vivid details and specific memories, is refreshing and enlightening.
There are four children in the Walls family: Lori, Jeannette, Brian, and Maureen. The story begins with Jeannette’s, the narrator’s, first memory as a child when she was three-years-old and cooking hot dogs on the stove by herself. No supervision. Where were her parents? you might ask. Good question. And that’s only the beginning. Rex Walls was an always-unemployed entrepreneur at best and a chronic alcoholic at worst. Mary Walls was a painter who would rather let her children starve to the point where they would find their meals in the garbage than get a job. It was really hard to read this book and not feel extremely angry with her parents all of the time. They were “free souls” I guess you could say, but were both enormously selfish and immature. Not only did they fail to step up to the responsibility of supervising and being there for their children, but they also turned a blind eye to all kinds of physical and sexual abuse the children received from other family members and neighbors. Their mantra was simply “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,” and that was how they excused these monstrosities their children had to live through without actually having to do anything about them.
There were times, however, that Walls’ parents stepped up and inspired something within their children that would help them survive and thrive. Instead of treating them like children, her parents often treated the kids like adults and taught them about things such as physics, the stars, and great literary works. By their neglect and mode of parenting, it gave the children the ways of survival and curiosity they would need to prosper and save themselves in the end.
This was a powerful and thought-provoking book, which showed how much one person can go through and survive, coming out stronger and smarter because of it all. I came away from this book inspired by the author’s determination and ingenuity, and extremely thankful that I’ve never had to live in a car or scrounge through the trash for my next meal.
To end with one of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Things usually work out in the end.”
“What if they don’t?”
“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”