Polly's Reviews > The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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Jul 08, 2008

really liked it
Recommended to Polly by: abbysmom
Read in March, 2008

A friend suggested that I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls a few months ago, and I have to admit when she first described it I was a bit leery. I thought it was going to be one of those “poor pitiful me” sagas about growing up with shitty parents. But I had heard a few things on the news about this woman and figured it was worth a try.

First and foremost this book is anything but a “poor pitiful me” story. Is they author’s life difficult? Oh my gosh yes. That would be the understatement of the century. But the way she tells her story is incredibly refreshing. Every hardship is presented in such a matter-of-fact manner that you don’t get the sense that she is trying to elicit sympathy. Rather she’s just telling you about her life. There are moments, too, when I think she relishes in the fact that she unflinchingly faced these harsh circumstances and beat them (sometimes literally).

There are times though I felt she was too blase about the neglect and abuse she and her siblings experienced. I wanted her to get angry and scream “WHY ME?!?!” a few times. But ultimately I think it was her mechanism for dealing with such a (for lack of a better phrase) fucked up life. She didn’t give the circumstances too much weight, and therefore they had little power to control her and drag her down.

However, it is impossible to read this book and not want to strangle these parents. If you looked up neglect in the dictionary, you’d find their picture. Not only did they fail to supervise and protect their children from, oh, say, the dangers of cooking over an open flame, but they also turned a blind eye to all sorts of physical abuse from other family members and friends. The phrase, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” MUST have been invented by Rex and Mary Walls. It is their excuse for everything.

And yet, there are moments when you find it hard to completely hate these two people. In between the frustration and anger that their actions stir up, there are moments of good parenting. I loved how they treated their children like little adults when it came to education. There was no Elmo or Barney or Dora. Instead they taught them about the stars and physics and read great literary works to them. These kids grew into incredibly intelligent people because they were exposed to all kinds of information. I’m sure at the time the parents were simply indulging their own interests, but it rubbed off on these kids in a way that flash cards and writing lines of spelling words never could. It created an insatiable curiosity about the world around them, which proved to be their only saving grace in the end.

This is a jaw dropping account of one woman’s life, and it is unlike any other memoir I’ve ever picked up. Definitely add this to your must-read list.

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02/17/2016 marked as: read

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Linda The "Fox Cities Reads" community of readers in Northeast Wisconsin chose this selection in 2006; then brought the author, Jeannette Walls, to our library. We had a chance, then, to hear her story "straight from the horse's mouth", so to speak, and answer questions. A very amiable, approachable, and very "classy" lady, she was able, then, to shed some light on the choices her parents made, for good or bad, in an honest, non-self-pitying way:

When asked, for example, why her mother, who had "all that money" in a trust fund did not borrow from it to make their lives better, she acknowledged that if her father knew of it, or was able to get his hands on it, he would have used it for alcohol. NOT a good thing.

Imagine having to pick up in the middle of the night and move because there was no money to pay for bills or rent; the choice of your next place to live being decided, at times, with no more thought, perhaps, than closing your eyes, pointing to a spot on the map and saying "Lets go...(pointing)... THERE!". Because, basically, that's how they lived. But despite their parents' choices in life, and how it affected their children, she does not presume to judge, only love them despite their many shortcomings, and portray their life as "an adventure". And, adventure it was; in spades!

In case anyone is wondering what happened, afterward...Her father died years ago; the mother, at the time of Jeanette's presentation, anyway, was still alive; living in a "squat house" somewhere in NYC. The brother, as I remember, is a cop; the youngest sister, living in California, has the greatest amount of difficulty dealing with the past; the other sister has "no comment"; and Jeanette's life has gone from "rags to riches".


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