Published by Scribner on January 17, 2006
Genres: Adult Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction
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.
Review: Books based on true stories are kind of scary things. Books can provide so much emotion – anger, frustration, denial, elation, excitement – that it’s easy to lose yourself in this other world. But with memoirs, you’re losing yourself in someone’s life, someone’s memories, and that can be hard to process. Because most of the books I read are fiction, the hard things that are there in print are simply that…in print and in my head. So for me to try to wrap my head around the fact that someone lived through those events, someone suffered through the anguish that I only got a sliver of while reading.
The Glass Castle by Jeannete Walls did that to me. This is a memoir of her life, a very hard life, filled with anguish and poverty and neglect. But, at the same time, it’s also filled with hope and love, of waiting someday to build a beautiful Glass Castle of what is currently a cardboard box. Jeannette grew up in a family that didn’t stay in the same place. Her father and mother would get up and leave whenever things got a little too boring. They’d have no plans, no money, sometimes even no car (in which they’d just hitchhike their way). Her parents refused to have stable jobs, though her mother had a teaching degree, because then they’d be selling out and not living their life to the fullest. To me, this seems absolutely terrible. But to each his own, I guess. Anyways, they moved from place to place to place, never settling, never having a home.
At times, though, it wouldn’t seem so bad. Her father – when he was sober, a very important distinction – seemed to actually care about them and be proud of them. That’s what got me about this book – I was riding up and down an emotional rollercoaster. Most of the time, it was definitely going down. I would feel sad and hurt for these poor children who had to endure these conditions. I hated the parents for acting so selfishly. But then, there were the up moments (small, but sweet) where I felt sympathy for them. Here’s a quote from one of those moments later on in the book:
Despite all the hell-raising and destruction and chaos he had created in our lives, I could not imagine what my life would be like – what the world would be like – without him in it. As awful as he could be, I always knew he loved me in a way no one else ever had.
This is a story about hardships, about drunkard fathers, and creative but neglectful mothers. Yet this is a story of how a little girl and her siblings remained hopeful despite these hardships. This is a story of a family who loves each other, of a father who, when his daughter went to college (the first of the family), read every single one of her assigned books just so he could help her along the way. This is a story of how these small children overcame what no one thought possible. This is a story of how, when one of the children doesn’t and succumbs to the life of her parents, her family is still there for her, supporting her, loving her. This is a wonderful story, beautifully written and emotionally-wrenching. I give it five enormous, beautiful, shining stars.
Read this book. It will make an impact on you, I promise.