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Half Broke Horses

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Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle was "nothing short of spectacular" (Entertainment Weekly). Now, in Half Broke Horses, she brings us the story of her grandmother, told in a first-person voice that is authentic, irresistible, and triumphant.

"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls's no nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town -- riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") 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, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix audiences everywhere.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published October 6, 2008

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About the author

Jeannette Walls

20 books9,642 followers
Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist.

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, she graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women's college affiliated with Columbia University. She published a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, in 2005. The book was adapted into a film and released to theaters in August, 2017.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 12,591 reviews
Profile Image for Mayda.
3,124 reviews57 followers
December 17, 2011
If you've read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and wondered about Rosemary's lack of maternal instincts and caring, this book will help explain why she was the way she was. Told in first person, with Jeanette's grandmother, Lily, as the central character, the novel is strewn with facts and stories handed down through family members to Jeannette. Not as compelling as The Glass Castle, it is, nevertheless, a book well worth reading. Lily is a most unforgettable character, and the time frame and geological regions she lived in adds to the enjoyment of the story. Now that I have read this tale a second time, it is evident to me that children have to make their own way in the world, on the path that is right for them. Rosemary could nor more be like Lily wanted her to be than a mule could be like a stallion. But it also does not excuse the lack of stability and provisions that permeated the lives of Rosemary and Rex and their children. That Jeannette and her siblings prospered and succeeded illustrates just how much of Lily's character and personality they inherited.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
February 12, 2015
"I never knew a girl to have such gumption," [Mom would] say. "But I'm not too sure that's a good thing." -- Half Broke Horses

I loved this book! It's a true-life novel about Walls' grandmother, Lily Casey, who had an amazing life. She was born in 1901 in a dugout in Texas, and learned about ranching from her father. At 15, she left home to be a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Arizona. She was also an accomplished horsewoman, she knew how to repair cars and she learned how to fly a plane. Lily reminded me of my own grandmother, who also had a lot of gumption and who could teach you a thing or two about life.

There were so many good quotes in the book, but one of my favorites is from when she started college:

"I wished I could take every course in the curriculum and read every book in the library. Sometimes after I finished a particularly good book, I had the urge to get the library card, find out who else had read the book, and track them down to talk about it."

Lily Casey is the kind of character who stays with you long after you've finished the book. What a woman!

Update: I finally read The Glass Castle, and even though Walls wrote that first, I'm glad I read Horses first because it gave the story of her grandmother, and then Castle is about Walls' mother. There are some references to Lily Casey in Castle, and I appreciated them more having already read Horses. So if you're new to Walls, I would recommend reading Horses first.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,947 followers
October 13, 2009
Jeannette Walls's original intent was to write a book about her mother Rose Mary's childhood on an Arizona ranch. Rose Mary convinced her that it was grandmother Lily's life story that needed to be told. Having read the book, I have to agree. What a life! Hard times and hard work in the early 1900s, trying to scratch out a life on ranches in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Lily lived on Route 66 when it was still a dirt road.

Walls chose to call the book a novel because she got all the stories secondhand, from Lily's daughter Rose Mary. However, I'm shelving it as a nonfiction memoir. It reads like a memoir, and the stories are true. Walls wrote it in the first person, as if Lily Casey Smith were telling you her life story. After awhile I got so into it that I forgot it wasn't really Lily speaking.

Walls is such a gifted writer. The stories come alive and move along so easily. If you've read The Glass Castle, you'll also appreciate the insight Half Broke Horses gives about how Rose Mary's early life made her the unconventional mother she later became.

If you're not the type to normally enjoy biographies, I recommend giving this book a try. It's relatively short and never boring or overdone.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,274 followers
September 1, 2013
One way to really get me pissed off is to tell me that the past was innocent and simple. What you really mean when you say that is that your childhood was innocent and simple, which is probably also debatable, but at least seems fair from a nostalgic standpoint. The farther we look back to our childhoods, the more innocent life seems, and so things that happened before we were born must be the most innocent. No. Not true. People have always been just about as fucked up as we are now. I would say we’ve never been significantly better or significantly worse. That is why I love honest memoirs and biographies like this one. It is tough to even wrap my brain around the amazing and horrible things people have done and still do, and I want to hear about all of it.

As you probably know, Jeannette Walls wrote Half Broke Horses about her grandmother’s insane life. Talk about a real life superhero! The book starts out with a harrowing description of Lily, Walls’s grandmother, saving her little brother and sister from a flash flood by making them climb a cottonwood tree and cling there overnight while the flood subsided. She quizzed them on multiplication tables and trivia to keep them awake through the night so they didn’t fall out of the tree. In the morning, when the children limped home through the residual water from the flood, Walls describes their reunion with their parents:

Dad was on the porch, pacing back and forth in that uneven stride he had on account of his gimp leg. When he saw us, he let out a yelp of delight and started hobbling down the steps toward us. Mom came running out of the house. She sank to her knees, clasped her hands in front of her, and started praying up to the heavens, thinking the Lord for delivering her children from the flood.

It was she who saved us, she declared, by staying up all night praying. ‘You get down on your knees and thank your guardian angel,’ she said. ‘And you thank me, too.’

Helen and Buster got down and started praying with Mom, but I just stood there looking at them. The way I saw it, I was the one who’d saved us all, not Mom and not some guardian angel. No one was up in that cottonwood tree except the three of us. Dad came alongside me and put his arm around my shoulders.

‘There weren’t no guardian angel, Dad,’ I said. I started explaining how I’d gotten us to the cottonwood tree in time, figuring out how to switch places when our arms got tired and keeping Buster and Helen awake through the long night by quizzing them.

Dad squeezed my shoulder. ‘Well, darling,’ he said, ‘maybe the angel was you.’”

And the story basically just takes off from there. As a teenager, Lily rides her pony five hundred miles across Arizona to teach in a rural school. She moves to Chicago to experience love and heartbreak, and she basically dominates the entire time. The Chicago story is nuts, like every other story in this book. I love it all, and while I was reading it, I just thought, “I KNEW you assholes lived crazy lives. Why isn’t all of history THIS??” Because these are the people I care about – people like Lily Casey Smith who take life head on and drain every drop out of it. I love that. I want to hear about all of it.

I think a couple of things are going on here, though, with the fact that this book wasn’t as much of a hit as The Glass Castle. I think The Glass Castle actually, counter intuitively, benefitted from its off-putting child-molestation cover. It hit the Oprah audience square on with that cover, but then it was actually brilliant, so to the extent the anti-Oprah crowd could be convinced to try it, it was gritty enough for them.

We all came to Half Broke Horses, though, with that history and expectation. Like, we wanted to have that, “OMG SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED” experience with this book, too. But, since we expected brilliance, it was kind of an impossible standard. So, I really, really loved this book. I think it was at least as good as The Glass Castle, and it presents this incredible American history that I have never known or imagined. Where The Glass Castle was me and my childhood and my life, this was the alien landscape of our past – of the weirdness, bravery, and cruelty of American genealogy. But, if I had expected that surprise of something genius wrapped in an off-putting cover, and if I had counted on that, I think I would have been a little disappointed, like a lot of people were. I was the opposite of disappointed. This book was spectacular.

I know a lot of people treat their own personal histories as though they are a social faux pas. We hesitate to say what makes us who we are and pretend that we magically dropped into our successes and failures, that we were never victims, that we were always proper and never broken. And, while I would never encourage self-indulgence, there is nothing more beautiful to me than personal histories. These stories of floods, horseback rides, men with backup families, backbreaking work, and fierce family loyalty are that magic to me. Those are the magic that dropped us here, and I want to know and understand it all.
Profile Image for Taury.
559 reviews125 followers
November 24, 2022
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls is a novel written about Ms Wells grandmother -Lily Casey raising a family around the Grand canyon in the early 1900s. Many places where I just laughed out loud. The book centered around herself and her daughter Rosemary who was a strong willed tomboy. The brother was mentioned in the story but somehow I missed what happened to him. Lily was known as a lady not to be messed with. She had many adventures by horseback, by plane and through the dessert. She showed the wild lands of the dessert in Arizona and what life was in those times.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews45 followers
November 5, 2019
Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls
Half Broke Horses is a 2009 novel by Jeannette Walls detailing the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Half Broke Horses is the story of Lily Casey Smith’s life. Author Jeannette Walls, the granddaughter of Lily Casey Smith, wrote the book from Lily’s point of view. Lily is portrayed as a strong, spirited, and resourceful woman, who overcomes poverty and tragedy with the positive attitude that “When God closes a window, he opens a door. But it’s up to you to find it.” As a child growing up on the frontier in Texas, Lily learns how to break horses. At the age of fifteen, she rides five hundred miles, alone, to get to her job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. Later in life, Lily runs a vast cattle ranch in Arizona, along with her second husband and their two children. A woman of many talents, Lily earns extra money at various points in her life by playing poker, selling bootleg liquor, and riding in horse races. She also tries to fight injustice and prejudice wherever she finds it, which occasionally lands her in trouble. Half Broke Horses depicts the freedom of rural life, its joys and struggles, and celebrates the courage and spirit of its protagonist. Jeannette Walls says the book is “in the vein of an oral history, a retelling of stories handed down by my family through the years, and undertaken with the storyteller’s traditional liberties.”

تاریخ نخستین خوانش نسخه اصلی: روز پنجم ماه اکتبر سال 2019 میلادی
عنوان: روزگار عصیان: رمانی بر اساس زندگی واقعی؛ نویسنده: ژانت (جنت) والز؛ مترجم: حمیدرضا همایونی‌فر؛ تهران: نشرخزه‏‫، 1398؛ در 248 ص؛ شابک: 9786229562505؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21 م‬

داستان زندگی «لیلی کیسی اسمیت» است؛ «ژانت (جنت) والز»؛ نوه ی «لیلی کیسی اسمیت»، این کتاب را از دیدگاه «لیلی» نوشته است. «لیلی» زنی نیرومند، و مدبر، به تصویر کشیده شده، که با نگرش مثبت بر فقر و فاجعه غلبه میکند: «وقتی خدا پنجره ای را میبندد ، در را باز میکند. اما پیدا کردن این به عهده شماست.»؛ «لیلی» هنگامیکه در مرز «تگزاس» در حال رشد و بالندگی است، میآموزد که چگونه اسبها را رام کند. او در پانزده سالگی، پانصد مایل را به تنهایی اسب سواری میکند، تا به عنوان معلم، در مدرسه ی یک اتاقه، به شغلش برسد. سپس در زندگی، «لیلی» به همراه همسر دوم، و دو فرزندشان در «آریزونا»، مرتع بزرگی از گاوها را، اداره میکند. ...؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books784 followers
April 21, 2022
While I admired Lily's strength and determination, I didn't much like her politics and her apparent self-interest (at one point she takes up hunting for uranium to assist the America in its building of nuclear weapons). These poorer qualities were laid even more bare next to the caring, artistic nature of her daughter, Rosemary, who plays an even greater role in Walls' other major work, 'The Glass Castle'. Perhaps this lack of connection is why I failed to get on so well with this book as I did the first. Still, it was brilliantly written and frequently interesting, so it's all good.
Profile Image for Serena.
193 reviews
November 6, 2009
This is the second book I've read from Jeannette Walls, and for the second time I've really enjoyed her writing. The voice in this story is different from The Glass Castle but equally as engaging, and once again it's all true! It also inevitably makes you wonder (for those who've read the GC) how this story ties into the lives of author's parents, and why things turned out the way they did.

It's a great escape from the reality we live in now, with computers, text messaging, and the crazy speed at which technology moves us. The first person narrative of Walls' grandmother brings us to another time and place, bringing us alongside her life growing up in the southwest riding horses and living on a ranch, among other things. It's especially gratifying to read about how strong a woman can be, without having to apologize for it. This book ended too quickly, and made me want to know more about all its characters.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,178 reviews531 followers
June 17, 2015
This book is based on a real person, Liley Casey Smith. She was a tough woman who learnt enough lessons in her life to make her survive in any which way possible. Along the way she learns not to trust people, and with reason.

Born in a dug-out in Texas with a anti-authoritarian father with a physical disability, but a very strong mind, and a mother who cared more about lost social standing than physical hard work, Lily quickly learns to make up her own mind and let things happen. Riding five hundred miles alone on her pony, at the age of fifteen, to become a teacher in a remote town; becoming a rancher with her husband in Arizona; trying to learn to fly; turning a hearse into a school bus; selling illegal moonshine from her home, and taking on the mighty Mormons in her teaching of their children, all adds color and adventure to an impressive CV of life.

"…if people want to steal from you, they get you to trust them first. And what they take from you is not only your money but also your trust."


"…people who don’t plan for the future get ambushed by it."


"Dad followed me, and as I saddled up, he started deluging me with all sorts of advice, telling me to hope for the best but plan for the worst, neither a borrower nor a lender be, keep your head up and your nose clean and your powder dry, and if you do have to shoot, shoot straight and be damn sure you shoot first. He wouldn’t shut up."
A good read, since I couldn't put it down. However, the second half of the book lost me. Since it is based on the life of the author's grandmother, it can be expected that drama cannot be added where it does not belong. Although it is claimed to be a novel, I personally think it is more of a biographical memoir in fictional form and was written in the first person for more effect. The writing was very well done and can mean a lot to the descendants.

Lily had her moments - which undoubtedly demand respect and admiration. It is a memory of a remarkable women with a very creative mind at work during very difficult times. There was enough adventures to keep me riveted to it.

The idea of a fictional novel did not work for me. It needed more intrigue, drama, plot and surprise. More character-building should have taken place. A mediocrity crept in that just deflated my enthusiasm for it. It became obvious that a collection of anecdotes and legend was used to construct a story and try to make it work as a novel. The book, if it was written as true fiction, could have been just so much more. The collection of lose memories, combined into this version of a book, had enough creative possibilities and energy behind it to make it something really special. Alas, it did not happen, which takes this version of the tale out of the novel-genre, IMHO. Like Alexandra Fuller, the author uses her family to write and sell her stories. But like Fuller, it can become stale bread, although Fuller never tried to sell it as fiction.

The painting of the Arizonian landscape, and their life on the ranch, was excellently done. I really enjoyed it.

I don't feel like I have wasted my time with it. It really is a relaxing, interesting, easy-readable story. It was good to meet this strong woman. I liked it (two stars), but adding another star for the excellent writing. Just don't call it a novel.

Profile Image for Bridget.
961 reviews12 followers
September 28, 2009
This is the story of the author's grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. It is called a "True Life Novel" because it is written from the stories that the author, Jeannette Walls, remembers her grandmother telling, rather than from personal papers.

Lily comes across as a pretty amazing woman, who is also a survivor. She makes her way through life in a pretty no-nonsense kind of manner, always managing to find a way to make things work, whether it is The Great Depression, or tornadoes and floods.

I read this entire book, and didn't *not* enjoy it, but I can't say I really liked it. Maybe because Walls was the one creating most of the dialogue and the arcs of the story, as she could remember hearing, but Lily seemed like someone who would not be that enjoyable to spend time with, and who was a little bit to in love with herself. She just seemed unwilling or unable to admit that she was ever wrong, or that anyone else could have ever come up with reasonable solutions.

I can see the appeal of this book to lots of people, as Lily is a strong female character, not letting her gender or her financial status hold her back from doing what she sets her mind to doing. But in the end, I was kind of glad to be rid of her.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
24 reviews
December 4, 2011
I am in the midst of this read but I have to say as soon as I read the first page I was invested in what was to unfold. It was a real grabber of a opening.
I finished this book and enjoyed every moment of reading. It was so interesting. It covered many changes in the main characters life and it represented how most people will deal with what comes their way, with grace and acceptance. Very good book.
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,072 reviews240 followers
February 2, 2020
Story of the author’s grandmother, Lily Casey, and her life of teaching and ranching in the desert near the Grand Canyon in Arizona in the early 1900s. At first, I thought this book was non-fiction, and it is based on a real person and her actual experiences, but Walls describes it as a novel, stating in the Author’s Note, “since I don’t have the words from Lily herself, and since I have also drawn on my imagination to fill in details that are hazy or missing…the only honest thing to do is call the book a novel.” It is written in first person as if her grandmother is telling her life story.

Lily Casey is a colorful character who led an eventful life. The book is filled with family anecdotes of her adventures such as:
- Surviving multiple 500-mile journeys alone by horse across the desert at age 15
- Learning to fly an airplane at a time when air travel was fairly new
- Teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in several small towns
- Selling moonshine out of the back door of her house to make extra cash during Prohibition
- Turning a hearse into a school bus
- Figuring out how to capture water in the desert for the cattle ranch she and her husband managed

I found this book entertaining and enjoyed “getting to know” Lily Casey. It provides a good idea of what life was like back in those times, with lots of mentions of how people lived – no indoor plumbing, listening to the radio, the hard work in getting almost anything accomplished. I think the author does a great job of capturing the voice of her grandmother and could almost hear her speaking in her no-nonsense manner. I have not yet read The Glass Castle, but this book provides a good foundation of how Walls’ mother was influenced by her grandmother and their early life on the ranch, so I look forward to reading it.
Profile Image for Sterlingcindysu.
1,395 reviews51 followers
November 8, 2010
A great story, just as in The Glass Castle. How could a mother and daughter be any different? To me, there were 2 "sins of omission" here--one, I really wish Walls would have put a map at the beginning of the book of the west where Lily lived because I'm not familiar with the distances and all the moves back and forth. The other, since it is a work of fiction based on her grandmother's life (vs. a biography) Walls could have extended the book by another 100 pages or so to really emphasize some of the remarkable things Lily did, make more of a build up.

(copied review) By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town -- riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle. Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold
Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews256 followers
September 29, 2016
That was fun! Very much looking forward to author's own memoir. The first person narrator worked so well.
Profile Image for Courtney Allen.
Author 3 books58 followers
April 7, 2017
Half Broke Horses is about an earlier America that has been mostly forgotten--until works such as this kindly remind us. There is a heart beat in this book that found its way into my reading chair and remained there until the last page. The writing style is simple but artistic, with a well-crafted storyline and a strong, dynamic primary character. This book is also well written with many believable and colorful characters that I found enjoyable. The story drew me along and took me away; it took me into a time and place in our past that has long been discarded, where dirt roads run for miles, away from the lives we know today of traffic, computers, social media, CNN, media, commercials, and billboards strewn along asphalt highways. To a time when our hands were in the earth with the bend of our back and the sweat of our brow. From the first chapter I was intrigued with the simple way of life that seemed both easy and hard at the same time--lives of honest, hard working people who were the salt of the earth and the backbone of our country. This book is somewhere in between a memior and a fiction novel, as Walls takes liberties to complete the story of her grandmother living in the rural west. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a sense of American history in their blood and wishes to be taken back in time when things were simpler and life was a little more straightforward. 100,000 plus GR ratings? I'd say this book was well read and loved. 5-star. Recommended. Courtney Allen, author of Down From the Mountain and Orange Moon.
Profile Image for Tara.
Author 23 books562 followers
February 27, 2017
"If you want to be reminded of the love of the Lord, Mom always said, just watch the sunrise. And if you want to be reminded of the wrath of the Lord, Dad said, watch a tornado." Thus starts an absorbing, humorous, remarkable "true-life novel" based on bestselling memoirist Jeannette Walls's grandmother's life. There are plenty of sunrise moments, as Lilly is as much a part of the landscape as she is a product of her parents' pioneer life, and there are plenty of tornado moments (the book starts with a biblical flood). Throughout all of Lilly's trials and tribulations in the desert and plateaus of the southwest, runs a current of grit and pride and unusual feminism during a time where women lay on fainting couches and were taught to embroider and rarely went to school. I loved Walls's ability to capture the natural world and the rigors of ranching and the pitfalls of family life. This prequel to The Glass Castle is highly recommended. It is basically nonfiction but reads as a novel, for folks who only read fiction.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
May 28, 2018
An easy book to read without the shocking episodes that occurred in The Glass Castle. It gave insight into Rosemary, the mom, who just allowed everything to happen without feelings. It gave you insight as to why Rosemary allowed her children to grow up poor and without what we think to be life's necessities.
Profile Image for Elisha Condie.
576 reviews23 followers
February 9, 2011
I feel exactly the same way my friend Anna did about this book - I loved it at first but then it kind of went downhill from there. I'd say me and this book parted cordially, not really friendly like. I just finished reading it and that's why I'm using country-bumpkinish language. A note to Ms. Walls -it's not all that charming, is it?

This story follows Walls' real life grandmother and her colorful life, living in a dugout out West, being scammed in Chicago, working her way back out West, marrying again, teaching school, driving a hearse, running a ranch, etc. It's a work of fiction since Walls uses her grandmother's voice to tell it and fills in blanks where she needed to. And I can't help feeling like if she was filling in the details couldn't she have made her grandmother more than just a tough as nails cowgirl? The woman had little kindness, little compassion, little interest in anything other than gettin' the job done. How tiring.

You know, a story about a hard working lady who doesn't let things get her down and makes a life for herself on the ranch seems like it can't lose. . . and yet it does. Maybe it's because I just read "Unbroken" a true life story of adversity where the hero still finds traces of beauty, humor, and humanity in his hard world. Walls' grandmother just paled in comparison. I thought that it was a great story but totally lacking in heart and soul.
Profile Image for Olivia.
118 reviews
September 30, 2011
It would be difficult not to like the writing style of Jeannette Walls. Elegant and down to earth at the same time, she has the ability to strike a chord of familiarity in the reader. She makes it easy to let yourself become a part of the story and to visualize the characters within their element. Loved this story. It’s the simple things in life that can sometimes lead to extraordinary story telling. Ms. Walls gets a four on the GR scale because of her ability to tell a great tale. And for that, Jeannette truly has the gift.
25 reviews6 followers
October 9, 2010
I wish Jeannette Walls' biography/novel 'Half Broke Horses' had been available prior to her own biography 'The Glass Castle'. Both of the stories are related and rivetting but 'Half Broke Horses' provides the background for Jeannette's bizarre upbringing. This account of her grand-mother's life living on ranches in west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona is a wonderful tribute to a 'pioneer' who isn't afraid of hard labor--she's one spunky, admirable woman and a real survivor.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
904 reviews136 followers
July 28, 2017
This was an excellent book. The writer draws you into the story from the very beginning when two young sisters are out in the field, and all the sudden they hear a flood coming and begin running for safety.

Sometimes I think that I should only stick to reading books that are as enjoying to read as this o
Profile Image for Katherine.
778 reviews355 followers
July 13, 2015
”You can’t fence them in,
Cause they were born to run and then,
You think you’ve got ‘em where ya want’’em
Then they leave you all alone…
Half Broke Horses,
They never come back home- Jaida Dreyer”

Setting:Texas and Arizona; 1901-1965

Cover Thoughts:These kids look thoroughly unimpressed with everything. Even the cat looks unimpressed. But I really feel that this picture (by Dorothea Lange) captures the hardscrabble, no nonsense feel of the book.

”I asked Dad if he believed that everything that happened was God’s will.

‘Is and isn’t,’ he said. ‘God deals us all different hands. How we play them is up to us.’”

We first heard about Jeannette Walls’ dysfunctional family in her critically acclaimed memoir, The Glass Castle. It all had to start somewhere though, and it all started with her tough, no nonsense grandmother, the infamous Lily Casey Smith. Born in a dugout in the heart of a Texas ranch, by the time she was five Lily was learning how to break horses with her father. By the time she was fifteen, she was riding 500 miles to get to her first teaching job. In between, she made herself known wherever she went. Her acts as a rancher and horse trainer were legendary in her parts, and she never believed in doing anything half-way. She went ALL the way. She was wild, untamed, gregarious, and practical. Throughout her life that was riddled with hardships, tragedies and despair, she managed to triumph despite all those setbacks to becoming one of the most striking individuals one would ever meet. Here is her story.

Wowza, this book was amazing. Jeannette Walls has quickly cemented her place as one of my favorite writers. Her writing style is so easy to follow, practical and to the point. I loved reading about the adventures and shenanigans of her grandmother, and her mother when she was a little girl. You have to admire the resilience of this family to actually survive after all the crap life put them thorough. It transports you to a different time and place where people just didn’t sit there waiting for their problems to be solved. Hell no; they solved it their own damn selves. And they wouldn’t have it any other way, either.

”I never met a kid I couldn’t teach. Every kid was good at something, and the trick was to find out what it was, then use it to teach them everything else. It was good work, the kind of work that let you sleep soundly at night and, when you awoke, look forward to that day.”

Make no mistake; Lily Casey Smith was a force to be reckoned with. Whether it’s partaking her love of learning to the students she cared for so deeply, to making business transactions, or sweet talking her way into a deal, Lily was a larger than life, one of a kind woman. And in this book, she’s the star of the show. She’s the type of person who people doesn’t just announces herself politely to the world; she makes sure to make an entrance. Lily wasn’t always dealt the best hand in life, as her father said, but she made the best of every situation and eventually triumphed over it all. There was never a child Lily couldn’t teach. However…

”’I always liked to think I’d never met a kid I couldn’t teach,’ I said. ‘Turns out I was wrong. That kid is you.’”
The one child Lily couldn’t fully control was, ironically, her own daughter, Rosemary. For those of you who read The Glass Castle before reading this book, you’ll understand why. But for those of you who haven’t, Rosemary is like Lily 2.0, but on steroids. And when she’s with her future husband Rex, she’s Lily 2.0, The Incredible Hulk version. Rosemary loved living on the ranch, but she’s not much good at living anywhere else. She’s talented at painting, but gives her teachers hell at school due to poor grades and behavior. She thinks with her impulses, not with her brain. These tendencies will eventually shape her own future, and the future of her daughter Jeannette.

Pros:I loved Lily’s passionate love of teaching and loving. As a future teacher, it was so inspiring to hear her words of wisdom, and while I can’t take every piece of advice she gave (cause it’d get me fired), her infectious, never encing enthusiasm for teaching and learning just leaps off the pages.
”I wished I could take every course in the curriculum and read every book in the library. Sometimes after I finished a particularly good book, I had the urge to get the library card, to find out who else had read the book, and track them down to talk about it.”
I absolutely loved the writing style as well, and I think it suited Lily rather well. It was straight to the point, no nonsense and folksy, just like Lily was. She told people like it was, with no embellishments or flourishes.

Cons:None; this book was a treat to read from start to finish.

Love Triangle?:Nope!


A Little Romance?:
”He had plenty of good qualities, but the most important one was that I felt I could trust him.”
Lily’s first marriage to a so called traveling salesman is a complete and utter disaster, so she’s extremely wary of romance after that. She soon meets her match in Big Jim Smith, a big man with an even bigger heart. They weren’t the overly sentimental type, but they did get along rather well as a couple, in their own weird way.

Conclusion:Although this might seem like a crazy thing to say, considering how nutters her family was, I think it’d would’ve been fascinating to grow up a Lily Casey Smith had. I loved reading from her POV, and her real life was so interesting and eventful that it does, in fact, seem like it could come right out of a novel. I think she would have been so proud of her granddaughter for telling her story, especially since it was done so beautifully. Highly HIGHLY recommended!!

Read This!:Jeannette Walls wrote this because her readers wanted to know more about her mother’s childhood, based on her previous actions in Walls’ first book, The Glass Castle. Check it out.

Profile Image for Sherry.
694 reviews15 followers
November 2, 2009
Walls' latest novel skillfully blends her grandmother's rich history with the fascinating history of her day, taking us on a journey from the turn of the twentieth century to the post-WWII era. Readers get a thorough and compelling picture of what life was like for competent, hard-working cattle ranchers in the American southwest during the Dust Bowl days. Unflappable, grandmother Lily Casey Smith lived an adventurous life: a young woman growing up on ranches in wide open spaces (and at various times larger cities) during an ever progressive, modernizing America. Walls shares the tales of Lily's life-long vocation: teaching young children in one-room schoolhouses in remote southwest locales. She dedicates the novel to all teachers, and ties in how her mother Rosemary remembers her own mother: a teacher first and foremost in all aspects of her bold and honest life. "Half Broke Horses" is not the autobiographical shocker that "The Glass Castle" is, but it is a wonderful story that also happens to enlighten readers about part of America.
Profile Image for Lynn.
259 reviews41 followers
August 8, 2016
I recently read the The Glass Castle and decided to pick up this memoir which is a prequel to it. The author tells the story of her grandmother the rancher who was a gritty, resourceful, moxie filled character. The era and lifestyle are so beautifully portrayed; that you almost can sense the heat, dust, and animal smell. I found the book particularly interesting because the author also chronicles her own mother as a child and young adult. In fact, Half Broke Horses ends with Jeannette Wall's birth and sets the stage for her abused and neglected childhood. I did not however find this memoir as gripping as its predecessor. I listen to the audio book as read by the author herself.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,784 reviews1,458 followers
May 12, 2014
I liked this book a lot. It has great, humorous lines. The author call this a book of fiction because although it is about her grandmother (Lily) and the youth of her mother, the star of The Glass Castle, Jeannette was only eight when her grandmother died. What we are told are the stories repeated by her family. The dialogs are invented. It is these lines that are so marvelous. There is such humor in them and wisdom too. I like Lilly. Here is a woman who was never crushed by hard times. She lived out West (Texas, New Mexico, Chicago, and Arizona) through the Depression and World War II. She was a survivor, and a good person too.

The story is told in the first person point of view, and the author narrates her own book, so you have to remember that when she says "I", she is in fact referring to her grandmother!

The book is funny, wise and easy to read. Read it. i think it is even better than her first book! (See the link above.)

(I am a little bit disgusted because I wrote another review and then forgot to save it.....so this will just have to do!)


After about 4 hours of listening:

Oh, I do see eye-to-eye with the author’s grandmother (Lily), about whom this book is written! She and her husband are now managing a ranch in, I think, Arizona. Her philosophies on cooking and cleaning:

Cooking - keep it simple. I agree. If I quote from the book: What my cooking lacks in variety it makes up for in consistency. No surprises, but no disappointments either!

Cleaning - she does a thorough house cleaning every few months. A little bit of dirt won’t kill anyone!

These are my mottoes too.

So I am thinking, today, I want to go outside, work on my knees in the dirt, pick up pine cones, move rocks, and cut bushes. So why should I clean the house….. now? It’s gonna get dirty again, so soon! When you clean up outside it all looks so pretty and you see it every time you look out a window. Hmmm, but yeah I will clean inside and then go out. I wish I could be like her! Logically, I guess a cleaned up house is pretty too.

And then another time she spends hours making cottage cheese from scratch, which everyone gobbled up in less than a minute. Her response was she would never make that again. What a waste of time! Again I agree!

The book is fun, and it is not yet finished. There is humor, and she is so darn optimistic. Yeah, bad things happen, but nothing daunts her. She picks up her feet and goes on. Good attitude.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,834 reviews427 followers
March 4, 2023
The beginning was a bit rocky, but once Lily got out of childhood, the book was much better. It was an exciting journey, and I was engaged for sure.

I DO wish there would have been a different narrator, though.

If you enjoyed the Glass Castle, it was interesting to see life through Jeannette's grandmother's eye as she views her mother, which we all had trouble wrapping our minds around.

3.5 Stars
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,398 reviews804 followers
July 5, 2013
3.5 stars I loved the second half of this novel. The first half was all right. It’s a story narrated by Lily Casey Smith, the author Jeannette Walls grandmother. I did like that format in which Walls used to tell the story of her grandmother’s life. The voice of Lily sounded real, and as Walls wrote “My grandmother was--and I say this with all due respect--quite a character”. In the book, Lily is quite a character. In the first half of the book, her life was much like those of the dust bowl, which are stories in and of themselves. When Lily gets married to Big Jim and has children, now, that’s when she comes into herself. She truly is a character. She got a job as a teacher at the young age of 15. She worked in small towns teaching children in one room school houses. She loved it, as it was her passion. She gets married, and she and her husband became ranchers. At a point in their lives, Lily wanted to teach to help bring in money so they could buy a ranch for themselves. Her stories of teaching, driving the school bus (which was a black hearse that she painted the words “school bus” with silver paint) were hilarious. She looked at life straight on, didn’t put up with shenanigans, and worked hard. A true cow girl of the wild-wild west.
Profile Image for Keri-Lynn.
309 reviews3 followers
March 31, 2011
I suppose this review could be said to contain “spoilers” but it’s only the kind that come from finding out the truth about the individuals in the story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that started at a 5 in my opinion (for the lovely conversational tone and enchanting structure), dropped to a 3 by the end and then to a 1 after I did a little research. Yes, I know in the Author’s note that Walls states she did not do much research, that she changed names (which is to be expected in a book based on real individuals and true events) and that, in her words, “I saw the book more in the vein of an oral history, a retelling of stories handed down by my family through the years and undertaken with the storyteller’s traditional liberties.” What she does not state is that the “liberties” are significant and the book is actually INSPIRED by true events, an entirely different category than the one advertised. On the cover of some editions it blatantly states “A True-Life Novel”, a claim that involves a good deal of stretching. Apparently the real story was “half-broke” before getting to the author or it wasn’t nearly epic enough and needed some embellishing. I wish that had been stated up front as I would have approached the book with a different mind-set, viewing it purely as a work of fiction, instead of the approach I took that the book is about a real family and fits into the fiction category because the person “telling” the story (Lily Casey Smith) is a different individual than the one who wrote it.

My curiosity about the accuracy of the book was piqued when I realized Walls wrote about a “Mormon” colony of polygamists in eastern Arizona (Main Street the book names it)-presumably the area of St. Johns, Apache County. Main Street itself has either disappeared or never existed. Unfortunately the author isn’t big on dates, so the reader has to assume the trip to see the Boulder Dam (completed 1935) on the way to Main Street and talking to her students about Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt places the time period in the late 1930's. The fact is, no Mormons were practicing polygamy by then. Yes, there were break off groups that did, but to call them Mormons is incorrect. That is when I realized the book might very well have other inaccuracies.

And boy does it. Because I was horrified by the description of Jim Smith being kicked out of his home by his father at age 11 with just a bag of food and a rifle, the first thing I did was to look up what I could on that "fact". Let’s just say it would have been beyond difficult for his father to do that, because Lot Smith died on 23 June 1892, which can be found with a simple google search. That would make Jim Smith (whose birth name was James Heleman Smith) only 3 when his father died. James Smith was born 8 October 1889 according to several sites and his tombstone which is posted online. In addition, James was born in Tuba City, Coconino County, Arizona, the very same county he lists on his WWI draft card signed by him 5 June 1917. At that time he lists himself as single. The influenza epidemic (during which his first wife-if he had one- would have died) hit Arizona in late September 1918 according to state records. Granted, it lasted until well into 1919, possibly 1920, but if Jim was single in June 1917 (which is on his draft card) and he actually served in Siberia during WWI, then he didn’t have much time before joining the Army to get a wife who died while he was away. In addition, he returned to Arizona and appears in the 1920 census-after the epidemic and in the same county-as single-not widowed. The time he spent in Canada prior to that (he's in the 1906 census of Calgary) is true, but serving in Siberia during WWI may not be. The units that served there were the 27th and 31st Infantry, which formed the American Expeditionary Force sent to Siberia. The infantry units formed (respectively) in New York and Michigan. The force arrived in Siberia on 15 Aug 1918 and most of the troops departed in Jan 1920 (though some individuals may have before that), making it a stretch for James to enlist in either unit, go to Siberia and be back in Arizona in Feb 1920. It’s not impossible, of course, just unlikely. Essentially my research shows James Smith isn’t quite the character the book makes him out to be, which brings everything on him in the book into question. I didn’t go any further in my research, as I figured I’d found enough inaccuracies about him to question the “true-life” novel designation.

How about the main character, Lily Casey Smith? Are there inaccuracies there? Yes. Her sister, Helen, was not buried "out on the range, far from town" on top of rise overlooking a shallow forested valley. She has a tombstone in a Red Lake cemetery inscribed "Our Beloved Daughter, Helen E Casey" along with her birth and death years and "Gone but not forgotten". As for Lily's exploits, her obituary only mentions her teaching for 39 years. It doesn't have to include horse racing, piloting or her other adventures, but those activities are impossible to prove without newspaper articles, or more particularly newspapers that cover a given area. They don't need to be proven for the story of her early life to be true, but with everything else so questionable, did Lily even fly or race horses? And what about her first husband. An online check of Chicago marriage records (records from 1872-1960 are online) show no marriage for a Lily Casey (or any similarly spelled Casey)from 1920-1935, a very broad search. There's no marriage record for a Ted or Theodore or Edward Conover either.

Do my findings indicate I’m picky? Yes they do, but readers should be picky when it comes to books that are supposedly based on real events. I guess the real question is whether this book is a family history at all or a soapbox for the author to poke fun at ideas and people she doesn’t like.
Profile Image for Camie.
916 reviews193 followers
January 4, 2018
We first meet Rose Mary Walls, the free spirited , artistic, and bohemian mother of author Jeanette Walls in her autobiography The Glass Castle. This second book told in first person narrative by Lily Casey Smith, Rose Mary's mother, who herself was a darn gutsy horse ranching, airplane flying woman during the Great Depression gives you further insight into the families entertaining dynamics. These books have resurfaced after the release of The Glass Castle film last year. They are easy to read and entertaining, though as they are presented as non-fiction, you'll need to take them with a grain of salt. My main problems are simple things like flowers that spring up overnight and three year olds that have extra vivid memory recall. Still very enjoyable, and this one especially promotes a "strong women" theme. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Sherri Thacker.
1,307 reviews268 followers
December 15, 2018
I was thrilled when I was able to read this book right after the Glass Castle since this explains a lot about their lives BEFORE. But to me, this one didn’t hold my interest like Glass Castle did. I found myself skimming throughout and I’m giving it 3 stars for that reason.
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