Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

iconiconI heard about this book from a horse blog I follow, Nuzzling Muzzles, when she reviewed Half Broke Horses — the sequel to The Glass Castle. Half Broke Horses sounded really good, but the blogger said I should read this one first, as the author refers to it in the sequel.

The Glass Castle is the story of Jeannette Walls's childhood — in all its dysfunctional glory. She grew up in the 60s and 70s, but you wouldn't know it from the stuff she describes in the book. Her parents moved around a lot when she was young, eventually ending up in the dirt-poor town in West Virginia where her father had grown up. Her father was an alcoholic, and a lot of the family's poverty had to do with his inability to hold down a job — and his habit of drinking away any money they had. Her mother was also unwilling to work, and as a result Walls and her siblings struggled to feed themselves for a lot of their childhood.

The things she describes are pretty horrific, and virtually unimaginable for someone who grew up with a full belly and a varied, if not extravagant, arsenal of toys. The one thing that did strike me, though, is that Walls's parents weren't the way they were for lack of education — they were intelligent and well-educated, and as a result Walls and her siblings were usually light-years ahead of their classmates.

Interestingly, it was this education that allowed the kids to escape and forge better lives for themselves. While their parents were living on the streets of New York City, Walls was going to an Ivy League college on scholarship, her sister was working as a freelance artist, and her brother became a cop.

The Glass Castle is a fast, compelling read, not to mention it will probably make just about everyone who reads it feel that maybe their family isn't so bad, after all. I'm really looking forward to reading Half Broke Horses, which is about Walls's maternal grandmother!

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