Two Books By Jeannette Walls

I belong to two book clubs and, between the two of them, last month turned out to be a Jeannette Walls month. There was no consultation; it just happened that each club picked one of her books.

The first pick was The Glass Castle, published in 2005. This is the author’s memoir outlining her erratic childhood and early adult life.

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.” (from the publisher)

The kindest thing I can say about the author’s parents is that they were incredibly unfit to be parents. Because of alcoholism, the father was seldom employed and the mother was so disconnected she didn’t even bother to feed her children. The abject neglect and poverty depicted in this memoir was painful. It was so painful I only made it half-way through the book. In my opinion, what the Walls did to their children was unforgivable. The author saw it differently however. She forgave her parents and seems to see them more favorably than I did.

After that introduction to Jeannette Walls I wasn’t sure I wanted to read her second book, Half-Broke Horses. But, from the first page, I loved this story. Lily was born in a dugout in 1901 and grew to be a plucky young girl who handled whatever life threw at her. Lily experienced so many incredible adventures, especially for a young woman during that time period.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. Half-Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults. Lily learned to drive a car and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls. (from the publisher)

Lily made a wonderful character for this fictional novel based on the author’s grandmother’s life. At several points during the book I wanted to suspend all belief. I found it hard to believe that Lily had actually done all that the author said she did. I can understand how that happened. This is, after all, an oral family history. As each person tells the story it gets changed a little bit each time. But then, if Lily only did half of what’s in this novel, she’s still an amazing person.

If you haven’t read Half-Broke Horses yet, I seriously recommend you give it a try.

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15 Responses to Two Books By Jeannette Walls

  1. Beth F says:

    I own both books and for some reason have never really been drawn to read them. Maybe I’ll start with Half-Broke Horses. I saw Walls talk about it at BEA a couple of years ago and it did sound interesting.

  2. Tracy A. says:

    I have not read her second book – but The Glass Castle is certainly a compelling tale. I remember seeing her on Oprah. Her mother was in the audience – it seemed that Wallis had found the ability to forgive her childhood – I’m not sure I would be able to do that.

  3. Louise says:

    How funny to have both schedule the same author! I haven’t heard of her before, but don’t need any depressing memoirs at the moment.

  4. I read The Glass Castle years ago and was amazed the the Walls’ children grew up as well as they did. I think their mother was mentally ill. When Walls spoke at BEA, she said her mother lives in a trailer on her property now. I haven’t read Half-Broke Horses yet but really want to.

  5. Aarti says:

    I have The Glass Castle on my shelf. It’s been there for a very long time, but I just cannot bring myself to pick it up. I think since I KNOW it is going to be a disturbing and sad book, I won’t want to touch it for a while…

  6. Ti says:

    The Glass Castle was difficult for me to read only because her parents were so much like mine. It’s hard to imagine that she turned out okay but it happens.

  7. JoAnn says:

    I read The Glass Castle with my book club years ago and had a really hard time with it… absolutely hated the parents and couldn’t believe she could be so forgiving. Have not been able to bring myself to read her second book, but you make a good case for it.

  8. Staci says:

    I read the first one but not Half Broke Horses…will have to make sure I add that one to my list!

  9. I really want to read both of these books; I love memoirs. (And always hope they are (mostly) genuine memories and not made-up! I can’t find a link to Amazon on your blog, pretty sure it used to be there — maybe I’m just tired. I’ll come back tomorrow and check in again. (Not that my puny little purchases will really matter to you I know, but you always have such good recommendations.)

  10. I’ve had both of these books on my list forever, I really do have to get around to reading them. I love Walls and really think she’s lead an interesting life.

  11. I own both books and for some reason have never really been drawn to read them. perhaps I’ll start with Half-Broke Horses.

  12. Bumbles says:

    I whipped through The Glass Castle in several hours. I absolutely could not put it down. I was riveted to the tale of chaos through a young girl’s eyes, and how she learned about determination and dreams through it all. Her parents were not traditional and there were large pieces of her life that were lived dangerously. I found the book to be incredibly empowering and hopeful – how the children bonded together and survived. I also found sympathy for the parents – wishing they could have realized from the beginning the incredible children they brought into the world but didn’t have the strength to guide all of the time. I encourage you to go back and finish – let Ms. Walls impress you with her life, the way her grandmother did.

  13. stacybuckeye says:

    I loved The Glass Castle, gave it out on World Book Night. I see why you’d be angry at the parents, but for me it wasn’t their story. It was Jeanette’s story and her ability to not only rise above, but to forgive and accept made this a compelling read for me. I haven’t read the second one, but am glad you liked it. I’m sure I’ll get to it someday.

  14. I have The Glass Castle on my shelf. It’s been there for a very long time, but I just cannot bring myself to pick it up. i think since I KNOW it is going to be a disturbing and sad book, I won’t need to touch it for a while…

  15. AZGal says:

    We all agree, this Women is special. Although I was not interested in a depressing story, I started The Glass Castle and could not put it down.

    My analysation is the Father was doomed to alcoholism both environmentally & genetically. When he went through convulsions to quit for his Daughter, his love for her is obvious. Sadly, he just did not know how to live without his booze.

    The Mom got hooked into the excitement. They were both obvious non-conformists. The only piece I cannot comprehend is why they did not go back to Arizona, or how they disconnected when their kids were hungry. Yet as I consider these thoughts, the answer is clear from the Author’s story when she states how they would go through the money too quickly because they did not understand the importance of a budget. And, the Father’s hustle to feed his addiction kept them financially poor as well.

    The fantastic qualities were teaching their kids about Art & Math which is unusual in an oppressive alcoholic home. These kids certainly turned out very well considering their start in life.

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