The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls
A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.
My thoughts on this book:
This memoir has to be one of the most unique memoirs I’ve ever read.
Jeannette Walls shares the raw and honest story of her childhood leading up to adulthood. She was raised in a highly dysfunctional family with her three siblings. Her parents were like nomads and just couldn’t really settle down. Jeannette’s mother loved to read, paint, and had a teaching degree, but most of the time she refused to work. She viewed work as a waste of time. Her dad was a very intelligent man who did indeed work off and on, but he was an alcoholic and at times abusive. He had delusions of grandeur and thought he could find scads of gold to get rich and build the family a glass castle.
“When Dad wasn’t telling us about all the amazing things he had already done, he was telling us about the wondrous things he was going to do. Like build the Glass Castle.”
Regardless of their living conditions, whether the children had clothes or food to eat, and regardless of their safety, nothing seemed to faze Jeannette’s parents. They expected their children to find ways to take care of themselves. Jeannette was often thrust into doing adult things as a child, beginning with cooking hotdogs on the stove at the young age of three, resulting in multiple serious burns on her body and leading to a hospital stay. This is just the beginning.
“Just remember,” Mom said after examining the blisters, “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” “If that was true, I’d be Hercules by now,” Lori said.”
I had multiple emotions throughout reading this book. It becomes fairly obvious throughout reading Jeannette’s story that her parents have some serious mental health issues. It’s unclear what type of upbringing her father received, but there may have been some abuse that he never truly got over. I felt that I could somewhat relate to this (having an alcoholic father myself), but it’s always been such a challenge for me to accept a person’s past as an excuse for their behavior today. As for Jeannette, she’s just the opposite, and very forgiving toward her parents. Throughout the book you don’t always get a sense of how she’s feeling. You can tell certain times when she gets older that she experiences anger toward both parents, but she rarely cries and is so incredibly strong and resilient. She never stops loving her parents, but her and her siblings know that eventually they have to devise a plan get away.
Being a parent is hard and I surely don’t want to criticize Jeannette’s parents, but I had such a hard time understanding some of their decisions. Aside from the neglect and starvation, when it came to exposing the children to dangerous people–deliberately putting them in harm’s way–I had serious issues. It went too far at that point and I had a very difficult time reading those parts, but at the same time, I found myself more accepting of some of their morals. After all, nothing good can come from hating someone in your heart.
“I hate Erma,” I told Mom…
“You have to show compassion for her…” She added that you should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. “Everyone has something good about them,” she said. “You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.”
Their parents do love them and the children learn a great deal from them including multiple survival skills. They develop a love for reading, and they also learned ways to entertain themselves. They learn responsibility and how to care for themselves because nobody else is going to do it for them. They experience adventure and there are, without a doubt, some wonderful family times together, but some extremely scary times as well. Obviously it’s good to have children who are self-reliant, but there were some huge risks taken. Just where do you draw the line?
This book is written really well and I could barely put it down. I didn’t want it to end and craved more. Jeannette is an amazing writer and the fact that she is so caring and forgiving of her parents is heartwarming. Her love for them is unconditional. Rather than turn bitter about her upbringing, she’s a very positive person and she’s taught me a lot about family, perseverance, and forgiveness after reading her story. If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I honestly can’t wait.
Thanks for reading my review of The Glass Castle. Have you read this book or do you have some favorite memoirs you’d like to share? You can leave thoughts and suggestion below.