Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is the memoir of Jeannette Walls. The narrative opens with Jeannette seeing her Mom, who's been living on the street, digging through a dumpster. She goes on to recount her life with her dysfunctional family.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was well written, easy to read and extremely fascinating. It serves as a good reminder about how resilient we can be and that not everyone grows up in a stable household. The memories are presented in relatively short vignettes. I liked this, but sometimes I wanted to know more about what happened or how Jeannette felt about the incident.

Even though I liked the book a lot, in general I have trouble with childhood memories. First of all, children see the world differently than adults. They don't have the mental capacity to understand everything that goes on so their views on things come out a little skewed. Secondly, I find it hard to believe that someone could remember so much from their childhood. I certainly don't. I had to remind myself several times that a memoir is just a collection of that person's memories. It may not (and doesn't have to) accurately represent what actually happened.

While reading the book, I wondered many times about Rex's and Rose Mary's love for their children. How could they claim that they loved their children when they were going hungry and had to dig through dumpsters for food? They had nothing and wanted for everything. The capacity to earn a living was apparently there, but it wasn't what they did. By the end of the book, though, I realized that love comes in many different forms and packages. They believed they did the best they could. I don't want to reveal the ending, but a few pages near the end of the book, just about broke my heart.

I realize Jeannette did what she had to do to survive, but I'm not sure I'd have the strength to change my life the way she has. I also don't think I'd be strong enough to let my mother live on the street. I don't know what I'd do, but I'd probably lose a lot of sleep over it.

Favourite quotes:
They make it too easy to be homeless. If it was really unbearable, we'd do something different. (Rose Mary, Jeannette's Mom, page 264)

[Jeannette:] I asked about the property in Phoenix.
"I'm saving that for a rainy day."
"Mom, it's pouring."
"This is just a drizzle," she said. "Monsoons could be ahead!" She sipped her tea. "Things usually work out in the end."
"What if they don't?"
"That just means you haven't come to the end yet."
(exchange between Jeannette and her Mom, page 259)

New words:
simony (page 105): trading in sacred things
caryatid (page 208): female-shaped supporting pillar

Highly recommended. I have a copy of Half Broke Horses, Jeannette's next book, on my to-be-read shelf. I'm really looking forward to it.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Scribner (Simon & Schuster) ©2005. ISBN 9780743247542(Trade Paperback), 288p.


  1. What a great review! I don't read much non-fiction but I will be reading this with my book club very soon. I'm sure that it will spur a lively discussion!

  2. I read this a few months ago too. I thought it was really well written but a number of times I just cringed at the parents' behaviour. That said I thought it was a good example of how people can rise above a bad childhood. So often criminals use their poor upbringing to explain why they committed a crime. I'm sure it's justified sometimes but this memoir shows people do manage to overcome adversity.

  3. I love childhood memories because I think it's interesting to see the wrold through the eyes of a child.

  4. I love childhood memories because I think it's interesting to see the wrold through the eyes of a child.

  5. I enjoyed this book even though it is difficult to read. You just feel terrible for Jeannette and her siblings. My book club is reading Half Broke Horses for September.


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