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The Glass Castle

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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.

288 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 2005

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About the author

Jeannette Walls

29 books9,056 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
573,170 (50%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 59,165 reviews
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,234 followers
May 10, 2010
My sister saw The Glass Castle on my coffee table and said, “Oh, I read that. It’s kind of . . .” then she paused and we both were awkwardly silent for a minute. “Well, I was going to say, it’s kind of like us, a little bit, but not –“

“Yeah,” I said. “I wasn’t going to say it – because not all of it – “

“Yeah, not all of it.”

We didn’t talk about it again.

When I first saw this book, I think I died a little inside because of the cover. I didn’t hate The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood like I hated The Mermaid Chair or (*shudder*) Bastard out of Carolina, but when there’s a little girl on the cover of a book, looking all innocent, it’s like a movie with the word “Education” in the title. You just know you’re in for a published trip to the psychiatrist’s couch. Kiddy-sex and soul-searching. I’m not saying people shouldn’t tell their stories (I mean, look at me, I’m all up in your website telling my stories), but I do think people should get a handle on what their story is before they try to tell it. Or at least before they make me read it. Sorry, that’s kind of asshole-ish of me to say, but I just think a lot of books with innocent little girls on the cover are really arrogant. They have this sense that since some man did something horrifying, everything that women do, including dancing around a fire with girlfriends or taking exotic lovers, is just part of the loving circle of nature’s healing. I am such a fan of women, and so I take it personally when we look like morons.

This book has absolutely nothing in common with its cover. I haven’t written a review of it before because I think it is a perfect book, and how do you review a perfect book? I’m like Wayne and Garth when they meet Alice Cooper. This book is my Alice Cooper. I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s Alice Cooper, but to me this is exactly what a book should be. Everything about the book is simple, concise, and action-packed. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry. The people are incredible, but deep and smart and human. In some ways, I think this book is the Great American Story, but it’s the story none of us talk about and all of us live. In other ways, the book is so specific and personal to the Walls family that I never would have imagined the stories if I had not been told them.

Virginia Woolf and Rainer Maria Rilke, two of the wisest people I have read, both ask when and how women will be able to tell stories without being self-conscious that they are women. How can we write, or even live, not as reactions to men, but as separate masters of our own experiences? I don’t know where the genders are on the space/time continuum of respecting each other, and I think there are probably gender-related specifics to any story (maybe that’s just natural and not even bad), but there is something about this book that is just human and strong. It is compassionate and unflinching. Oh, I hate adjectives. Just, read the first chapter of this book, and if you don’t think it’s compelling, don’t keep reading because it’s probably not for you.

My family was nomadic, like Jeannette Walls’s family, but, like I say, all of her stories, and my stories, are unique. When I last lived with my parents, it struck me that we never really understand other people’s relationships with each other. I grew up, probably as many of us did, thinking that my parents never really got along and that my mom was a victim of my dad’s anger and wild scheming. But, later, I realized they probably both got something that I never understood out of their relationship. I think a lot of this book is about how we know the people we are close to and, also, never really do – how it is useless to hold other people to our own standards of what love or responsibility looks like. But, still, it is about holding each other responsible. Or, maybe the book is just about her family with no real moral lesson at all. Walls is so loyal to her stories in an almost scientific way. None of the adult outrage that contaminates so many stories of children creeps into Walls’s. She tells you what happened, and maybe how she felt about it at the time, but she doesn’t impose emotion on the reader. Here’s just a small part (well, actually, half . . . I couldn’t resist) of the first chapter to give you a little taste:

Mom was sitting at a booth, studying the menu, when I arrived. She’d made an effort to fix herself up. She wore a bulky gray sweater with only a few light stains, and black leather men’s shoes. She’d washed her face, but her neck and temples were still dark with grime.

She waved enthusiastically when she saw me. “It’s my baby girl!” she called out. I kissed her cheek. Mom had dumped all the plastic packets of soy sauce and duck sauce and hot-and-spicy mustard from the table into her purse. Now she emptied a wooden bowl of dried noodles into it as well. “A little snack for later on,” she explained.

We ordered. Mom chose the Seafood Delight. “You know how I love my seafood,” she said.

She started talking about Picasso. She’d seen a retrospective of his work and decided he was hugely overrated. All the cubist stuff was gimmicky, as far as she was concerned. He hadn’t really done anything worthwhile after his Rose Period.

“I’m worried about you,” I said. “Tell me what I can do to help.”

Her smile faded. “What makes you think I need your help?”

“I’m not rich,” I said. “But I have some money. Tell me what it is you need.”

She thought for a moment. “I could use an electrolysis treatment.”

“Be serious.”

“I am serious. If a woman looks good, she feels good.”

“Come on, Mom.” I felt my shoulders tightening up, the way they invariably did during these conversations. “I’m talking about something that could help you change your life, make it better.”

“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.”

“Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days ago.”

“Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It’s my way of recycling.” She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. “Why didn’t you say hello?”

“I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid.”

Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. “You see?” she said. “Right there. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it.”

“And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?”

“Just tell the truth,” Mom said. “That’s simple enough.”

It’s been a while since I read this book, so a lot of the stories aren’t fresh in my mind, but some are so vivid to me that I think of them whenever I see a trash can or think of the desert. In high school, I thought that American history was the most boring topic imaginable. Then, in college, I took a class called the History of Women in the U.S., and I realized that I think the history of industry and conquest is mind-numbing, but the history of actual people is riveting. The Glass Castle is a real, honest history (or as honest as histories can be) of people in America. It is so close to me and so foreign in just the way this country is.

It is also, in a way, a tribute to family oral histories. My dad has a . . . loose . . . relationship with the truth, as I’ve probably mentioned on this site before. In the past couple of years, every time I see one of my siblings, we sit around and tell stories from my dad or about my dad, trying to weed out what actually happened, what got a nice polish in the story factory, and what is an outright lie. I get that same feeling from this book – of siblings sitting around and saying, “Do you remember . . .” and “You weren’t there this one time . . .” or “No, that’s just what Dad said happened, what actually happened was . . .” I’m sure someday, my siblings and I will put together a history of our own, since every one of us seems to have inherited the storytelling gene. Whatever I write will be in some way inspired by this book.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
March 31, 2016
Now I get why people like this memoir so much.

Though it is a memoir and a true story, both the writing style and the way Walls reminisces about her childhood make it seem like more of a fairy tale. My favourite non-fiction books are those that don't lose the compelling flow of a good fiction book - that still pull you into another world and life, dragging you along for the ride. This is one of those.

I especially liked reading about Walls' complex and conflicting thoughts about her parents and childhood. When she's writing about her youth, she writes with the rose-tinted glasses of a young girl who loves her family; as she grows, she begins to see the shadows of reality creeping in - her father's alcoholism, her mother's selfish behaviour, the lack of food in the cupboards as a parental failure and not a normality.

And, through it all, she still loves her parents. She remembers her father as an intelligent man full of fantastical stories, and her mother as a spirited artist. It's interesting, though, how differently I felt toward them.

Normally, a convincing story has me feeling the same way as the narrator, but even though I could understand Walls's love for her parents, I despised them for being selfish and neglectful. I hated them for allowing a 3 year old to use the stove (and cause herself serious burns). I felt extreme anger, not love and understanding, towards them.

But that's not a criticism. The Glass Castle is a beautifully-written, emotional read. A true bildungsroman, full of dark and happy times.

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Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,004 reviews36k followers
August 12, 2017
Another Update: I just saw the movie!!! I liked it! Woody Harrelson - Brie Larson
and Naomi Watts were all great! I thought they got the important 'duel' emotions just right. On one end - the parents did not 'protect' their kids appropriately at all-- lots of crazy dangerous chaos-
On the other end - there was no question the parents loved wholeheartedly their children AND there were 'some' great gifts they gave their children - so our emotions are 'mixed'.
At the end of the movie when they show the real -Jeanette Walls & her mom- plus wonderful photos of the kids growing up... it's very touching?

Update: I just read some place that a movie is being made of this book. I want to share something about my relationship with "The Glass Castle" --that I've shared with a few people on this site --but never with the larger community.
I read this book in 2006. It was a gift from a friend. She mailed it to me from New York. She said...
"YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK". The book had only been out about a week. I wasn't much of a reader.
My friend knew me well --knew about my childhood --and said ...."you 'will' read this book".

Paul and I were leaving for Harbin Hot Springs --a regular -'get-a-way' place for us at the time. I took "The Glass Castle" with me. I mentioned in my other 'little' review --that I read it while sitting under a tree. The author became my hero!
What I 'didn't' say was ....."I then read another book, right away"! I liked it too! Then another book... Then another! I HAD *NOT* BEEN A READER UNTIL THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!

I'm not saying this was the best book in the entire world -(but it was great),- but I'm saying 'something' happened to me. I have been reading book-after-book -after -book (never NOT reading a book) --since 2006!!!
Looking back, I'm 'thankful' the following few books were all good experiences. Had they been awful books....I might not have kept reading.
Having several good books under my belt, if I hit a book I didn't like later on, --I didn't worry any longer. I knew reading was enjoyable. I felt comfort in ways I couldn't explain.
I wanted to call my long time friend 'reader' friends from Jr. High School (Lisi, Renee, Ron) ---friends who were always reading --and say....."why didn't you tell me"? "why didn't you tell me how intimate -personal - WONDERFUL - READING WAS? ------
Now, as an adult, I was not reading for a class....or a grade. I wasn't reading to please anyone!!!!
I'm still clear I have holes in my education. I KNOW I'm a LATE BLOOMER READER.....(For many many years of reading these past years --I still wasn't sure if I would call myself a reader --I just knew I was always reading)
Point is ---I found READING ---LATE IN LIFE!!! (Its NEVER TOO LATE).
Nobody can take away something you really enjoy! I may not be the smartest cookie in the room --- but I'm
honored to 'be-in-the-room'!!!
I love to hear from THE FLASHLIGHT READERS!!! Oh my gosh --you guys have such great 'childhood' reading memories. I melt hearing them. (sometimes cry).
I love to hear from the READERS whose parents read to you OFTEN as a child.
I love to hear about books YOUR parents gave you
I love to hear about books Members share with their children
I love to CHAT about books we love together (this si get to participate 'with you now)
I love to read 'too'!
If I left this site tomorrow ---I'd still have reading -- I'd still have friends to chat about with about books.
Its real now -- -- I read! THIS BOOK --(for whatever reason) --- kicked my new reading- habit into high gear!!! ----
So, I'm very thankful to Jeannette Walls --she changed my life!
Any 3 year old who tries to cook her own hot dog on the kitchen stove alone (my god -bless the little girl Jeannette was) --has me melting in the palm of her hands.

Thanks --its never too late to become a reader!


Agree with my friend, Victoria!!! (who just read the book and wrote a 5 star review)

5 stars!!!

I read this book sittng under a tree at Harbin Hot Springs one summer --

Jeannette Walls became my hero!
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
July 24, 2020
This memoir has to be one of the most unique memoirs I’ve ever read. My review might contain spoilers.

Jeannette Walls shares the raw and honest story of her childhood leading up to adulthood. She was raised in a highly dysfunctional family with her three siblings. Her parents were like nomads and just couldn’t really settle down. Jeannette’s mother loved to read, paint, and had a teaching degree, but most of the time she refused to work. She viewed work as a waste of time. Her dad was a very intelligent man who did indeed work off and on, but he was an alcoholic and at times abusive. He had delusions of grandeur and thought he could find scads of gold to get rich and build the family a glass castle.

“When Dad wasn’t telling us about all the amazing things he had already done, he was telling us about the wondrous things he was going to do. Like build the Glass Castle.”

Regardless of their living conditions, whether the children had clothes or food to eat, and regardless of their safety, nothing seemed to faze Jeannette’s parents. They expected their children to find ways to take care of themselves. Jeannette was often thrust into doing adult things as a child, beginning with cooking hotdogs on the stove at the young age of three, resulting in multiple serious burns on her body and leading to a hospital stay. This is just the beginning.

“Just remember,” Mom said after examining the blisters, “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” “If that was true, I’d be Hercules by now,” Lori said.”

I had multiple emotions throughout reading this book. It becomes fairly obvious throughout reading Jeannette’s story that her parents have some serious mental health issues. It’s unclear what type of upbringing her father received, but there may have been some abuse that he never truly got over. I felt that I could somewhat relate to this (having an alcoholic father myself), but it’s always been such a challenge for me to accept a person’s past as an excuse for their behavior today. As for Jeannette, she’s just the opposite, and very forgiving toward her parents. Throughout the book you don’t always get a sense of how she’s feeling. You can tell certain times when she gets older that she experiences anger toward both parents, but she rarely cries and is so incredibly strong and resilient. She never stops loving her parents, but her and her siblings know that eventually they have to devise a plan get away.

Being a parent is hard and I surely don’t want to criticize Jeannette’s parents, but I had such a hard time understanding some of their decisions. Aside from the neglect and starvation, when it came to exposing the children to dangerous people–deliberately putting them in harm’s way–I had serious issues. It went too far at that point and I had a very difficult time reading those parts, but at the same time, I found myself more accepting of some of their morals. After all, nothing good can come from hating someone in your heart.

“I hate Erma,” I told Mom…
“You have to show compassion for her…” She added that you should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. “Everyone has something good about them,” she said. “You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.”

Their parents do love them and the children learn a great deal from them including multiple survival skills. They develop a love for reading, and they also learned ways to entertain themselves. They learn responsibility and how to care for themselves because nobody else is going to do it for them. They experience adventure and there are, without a doubt, some wonderful family times together, but some extremely scary times as well. Obviously it’s good to have children who are self-reliant, but there were some huge risks taken. Just where do you draw the line?

This book is written really well and I could barely put it down. I didn’t want it to end and craved more. Jeannette is an amazing writer and the fact that she is so caring and forgiving of her parents is heartwarming. Her love for them is unconditional. Rather than turn bitter about her upbringing, she’s a very positive person and she’s taught me a lot about family, perseverance, and forgiveness after reading her story. If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I honestly can’t wait.

Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
August 8, 2020
It took me a while to get into this book, but there's a lot of interesting family dynamics and complicated familial love despite all the awful things that happened. I think this book would feel more complete if the author had written more personal insights rather than recounting things that happened. I want to read more about her reflections of the events that happened, her emotions, and how she processes her feelings towards her family.
Profile Image for Angela Cross.
2 reviews61 followers
November 21, 2007
I guess I have a somewhat different frame of reference than several of the reviewers here. I can relate to many of the lessons she learned, and as such, I never had an issue believing her. These things can and do happen. The system fails children, and addicts (whether they're addicted to alcohol or excitement) will seek their fix above all else. As long as the addiction is in the picture, the person just doesn't exist. Children in alcoholic families eventually become aware of this, and the sooner they "get it" the better for them. In the book, this is nowhere more clearly evidenced than in the case of Walls' youngest sister, who spent the least amount of time in the presence of her parents dysfunction, and yet was finally the most crippled of all the children.

Of course, I admit, I have a firmly-seated belief that the strongest and most creative of personalities are forged in fire; Maureen just didn't get burned enough to see the necessity of making a different life for herself. That, and she was separated from her other siblings by so many years that they took care of her more than they tried to include her in their effort to survive.

I loved this book. Walls' short (but revealing) scenes were detail and character-driven, and there were several times I caught myself chuckling at some absolute absurdity or marveling at an unexpected bit of wisdom from someone who should have been a totally unreliable source.

And I guess that's one of the main things I came away with after reading this book. Wisdom can come from anyone...whether we like them or not. And the trick to surviving is to take those things that make us better and stronger with us, and to leave the rest behind.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,823 followers
November 22, 2017
Who here has seen the show Shameless? (I am thinking of the American version, but I know there is a British one, too, that it is based on.) To me, that show could have been inspired by this memoir. Frank Gallagher and Rex Walls are the same guy!

I enjoyed all the vignettes from Jeannette Walls' life. She did a great job throwing them all together to create a story even without a specific plot. I am not sure that any of the stories lasted more than a few pages, but each one of them was interesting and important in its own way.

I listened to the book and it was great because it was was read by the author. I think that this is how all audio memoirs should be. Also, I thought it was interesting that although some of the stories made me want to reach through the speaker and shake her parents, she told the story without any positive or negative inflection. It was like she was saying, "here is my story, you decide how you want to be affected by it."

I believe that most people will enjoy this book. Some might be frustrated. Others might be brought to tears. But, in the end, I think there is a little something for everyone here.
Profile Image for Annalisa.
525 reviews1,347 followers
October 14, 2007
What I loved about this book is this: it presents her parents, with all their faults, and the poor mentality, at its worst, without anger, exasperation, or even really any judgment, just with the quirky love we all view our own childhoods. If she had been bitter in her description it would not have been believable, but instead it was tinged with forgiveness making me respect her for not only surviving such a strange childhood to become a successful, even functioning, adult but for being able to view her past with impartiality.

What was thought-provoking for me was the idea that if you think you're a victim you are and if you don't you're not. As appalling as her mother's reaction was to her troubles, it's true. We do overprotect our children at the price of their own growth sometimes. And in this society we are on the jumpy side when it comes to misconduct, but telling someone they have been victimized isn't always best for them. It's not empowering. We've gone so much to the other extreme that it was good to reconsider a sway more toward center. There has to be a medium where we aren't making children grow up as toddlers but also not sheltering them from making their own decisions until their adults.

There are also a lot of class "poor" mentalities in the book. The way the family never planned for the future as in aimed to use any gift or income to exponentially improve their lives, but horded means until they ran out. They tore down what they had until it ran out. They lived day to day. They took advantage when they could. The old adage that you give a man a fish he'll eat for a day but teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime is moot. They were not concerned with bettering their station in life only getting all they could out of it today.

I found it strange that both parents were so highly intelligent and capable and yet they chose to be homeless. It bothered me that they thought the best existence would be to throw their burdens on society and let it care for them without realizing, or caring, that someone was paying and working for their existence. It bothered me that they didn't think of their children's welfare above their own but used them like they would any other member of society. At times I found my blood boiling at the actions of her parents. That's what dysfunction will do to you.

And yet, she presents the incidents without anger or hurt. It happened. It shaped her glasses of the world. But the past isn't a happy place to live. She took what good she could from her experience (or bad to learn from) and moved determinedly from a childhood she didn't enjoy into an adulthood she could pick. And that's what a memoir should do: show us the past to affect the future, not to give us a place to live.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,562 followers
September 9, 2020
The warning is this: If you are going to become parents you must simply forego being too bohemian. Otherwise your children might grow up to be super successful & you will end up eating trash off dark alleyways...

Peculiar upbringings are what memoirs are made of! We saw this in the Frank McCourt gray & sad "Angela's Ashes" & even more so in any of the Augusten Burroughs books (mainly "Running with Scissors"). When memoirs are like this, invigoratingly Roald Dahlesque in painting pictures of past predicaments... and obviously the survival of the protagonist, the reader reads on. No matter how bad you have it, someone somewhere sometime probably had it worse.

The Walls children (3 of the 4 at least) become inspired by their nomadic parents, wanting to be so unlike their progenitors that they actually turn their lives around. Here is testament of someone living way under the poverty level in modern times & getting out alive & a smarter woman for it. That she appreciates it and maintains a smile is the very heart of this non-fic gem.

PS--Can't wait to see the movie.
(Probably on DVD.)
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 10, 2021
The Glass Castle : A Memoir, c'2005, Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls.

The book recounts the unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing Walls and her siblings had at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents.

The title refers to her father’s long held intention of building his dream house, a glass castle.

The child of an alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother discusses her family's nomadic upbringing, during which she and her siblings fended for themselves while their parents outmaneuvered bill collectors and the authorities

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز یازدهم ماه فوریه سال 2017میلادی

عنوان: قصر شیشه ای؛ نویسنده: جنت (جینت) والس (والز)؛ مترجم: مهرداد بازیاری؛ تهران، هرمس، 1393، در 348ص، شابک9789643639006؛ موضوع: سرگذشتنامه فقرا، بی خانمانها، و ...؛ معتادها از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

قصر شیشه‌ ای داس��ان سرگذشت زندگی دشوار و پرفراز و نشیب «جینت والز»، نویسنده و روزنامه‌ نگار «آمریکایی»، به قلم خود ایشان است؛ از روی این کتاب، فیلمی نیز به همین نام اقتباس شده است؛ کتاب «قصر شیشه ای»، شرح حالی درخشان، درباره ی پایداری در برابر دشواریها، و نگاهی مکاشفه آمیز به خانواده ای است، که هم، عمیقاً به سوی اضمحلال پیش میرود، و هم به شکل منحصر به فردی، سرزنده و پویاست؛ پدر کاریزماتیک و نابغه ی «جینت»، در حالت عادی، قوه ی تخیل فرزندانش را پرورش میداد، و به آنها، «فیزیک»، «جغرافیا»، و چگونگی مقابله ی بدون ترس با مشکلات زندگی را، میآموخت؛ اما زمانیکه او الکل مصرف میکرد، به آدمی دروغگو، و خرابکار بدل میشد؛ مادر «جینت» هم زنی وارسته بود، و در نظرش، مسئولیت خانه و خانوده اش، آزادی او را سلب میکرد؛ «جینت» با استفاده از هوش و زیرکی خود، موفق میشود خود را از این مهلکه بیرون بکشد، اما چیزی که قصه ی او را متفاوت میسازد، توصیفات محبت آمیز، و عاشقانه ای است، که او از والدین غیرمعمول خود، ارائه میکند؛ کتاب «قصر شیشه ای»، داستانی تکان دهنده درباره ی عشقی بی قید و شرط است، که زندگی خانواده ای درگیر با مشکلاتی بزرگ را، از ویرانی نجات میدهد

نقل نمونه هایی از متن: (هیچ وقت نباید از کسی متنفر باشی، حتی از بدترین دشمنانت؛ هر کسی، خوبیهایی دارد؛ باید آن خوبیها را پیدا کنی و آن شخص را به خاطر آنها دوست داشته باشی)؛ (زندگی نمایشنامه ای پر از تراژدی و کمدی است؛ باید یاد بگیری که از قسمتهای خنده دار، کمی بیشتر لذت ببری)؛ (میخواستم به دنیا بفهمانم که زندگی هیچکس کامل نیست، و حتی کسانیکه به ظاهر همه چیز داشتند نیز، رازهایی برای خود دارند.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 30/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 17/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Krenzel.
34 reviews20 followers
November 16, 2008
"The Glass Castle" is a memoir written by gossip columnist Jeanette Walls, which details her unconventional childhood growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother who seems to be mentally ill. Walls begins the book by explaining what has prompted her to write about her family: after she has "made it" and become a successful writer living in New York, she comes across her mother picking trash out of a dumpster and, in shame, slinks down in her taxi seat and pretends not to see or know her. Later, Walls confronts her mother, asking what she is supposed to tell people about her parents, and her mother replies, "Just tell the truth. That’s simple enough."

Of course, "The Glass Castle" is anything but simple, as Walls attempts to come to terms with her upbringing. The first third of the memoir deals with her young childhood on the west coast, as her parents live as nomads, moving frequently between desert towns, always seeking the next adventure. Walls' mother is the key figure we meet here: an artist and a writer, she seems to live in her own world and doesn't express much concern in the practical realities of raising her children. In a key passage, Walls' mother takes the kids with her to give them art lessons, as she paints and studies the Joshua tree. Walls tells her mother of her plan to dig up the tree, replant it, and protect it so it can go straight. Walls' mother admonishes her, "You'd be destroying what makes it special. It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives its beauty." This appears to be Walls' mother's philosophy of life – looking for the next struggle – as the family willingly gives up its nice residence in Phoenix that Walls' mother had inherited from her family to move to the father's home town – a depressed coal town in West Virginia.

The family's time in West Virginia makes up the next third of the story and depicts a depressed life in a depressed town. It is in West Virginia where the family seems to drift apart, particularly Walls' father, who up to this point, had been worshipped and revered by his daughter. Like Walls' mom, her dad has a lot of imagination; while he takes odd jobs that never last long, his real dream is to strike it rich with one of his inventions. He promises, once he has found his gold, that he is going to build a "glass castle" – his most special project – a great big house for the family to live in. Once in West Virginia, Walls and her brother figure they will make the best of the situation, and they spend a month digging a hole in the ground to serve as the foundation for the glass castle. But because the family can't pay for trash collection, their father instructs them instead to use the hole for the family's garbage. Although she has always been her father's defender, Walls grows disillusioned with her father, eventually telling him he will never build the glass castle.

Determined not to end up like her parents, Walls moves to New York, where the last third of the book transpires. It is here that Walls "makes it," graduating from college, gaining employment as a writer, marrying a rich husband, and settling into a Park Avenue apartment. Interestingly, while Walls has rejected her parents' lifestyle, it is now their turn to reject hers. Her father refuses to visit the Park Avenue apartment, while her mother, after visiting the apartment, asks Walls, "Where are the values I raised you with?" At this point, it is a mystery what values Walls actually possesses. By crafting the memoir around stories of her childhood, we as readers are often troubled, not just because of the content of the stories but because the stories don't provide much in the way of reflection or introspection. It is, in fact, unclear what Walls actually does value – will she continue to identify success with the material trappings of her "normal" life in New York, or will she ultimately reject the conventional life, as her parents did? Without more reflection from Walls, particularly in this concluding section of the book, readers are left to their own interpretation of "the truth" about her parents – are they just a drunk father and a lazy mother, or is there something more to it?

The "Glass Castle" is an addicting page-turner that should captivate any reader. However, without this reflection and introspection from Walls about her childhood, the book misses an opportunity to make a more lasting impact on readers and ultimately fails to reach the level of a work like "Angela’s Ashes." In the end, it is up to readers to make up their own minds about "the truth" of Walls' parents and her upbringing and what it all means. I chose to discount some of her parents' flaws and instead read this book as an homage to her parents. To me, the key passage in the book is when Walls visits a classmate's home in West Virginia and sees the empty walls in the house (in stark contrast to her own home, which is cluttered with paintings and books and decorations) and rejects the notion that her classmate's father, passed out on the couch, bares any resemblance to her own father. After Walls recounts the story to her family, her mother replies that she should show compassion for her classmate because not everybody has "all the advantages you kids do." Although the statement is ironic on its face, as the family fights over the crumbs of a chocolate bar, the distinction is clear: Walls' family may not provide her with much in the way of tangible goods, but they give her things that are more lasting – a belief in herself, a passion for reading and writing, an appreciation for things a lot of us take for granted, and most of all love. In the end, it was not important whether her parents actually built her a glass castle. It was that they gave her the idea of a glass castle. By overcoming her shame for her parents and writing this memoir, Walls seems to recognize this truth about her parents – that, like the Joshua tree, there was beauty in their struggle.

Profile Image for Juliet.
47 reviews20 followers
July 3, 2013
Okay, I originally gave this one star but then had to go back and re-rate it to a two b/c I surprised a couple of you guys and in my impulsive way, I realized perhaps one star was a bit too knee jerk.

It's not that I hated The Glass Castle, it's just that it irritated me with its self-conscious narrative style. Too much "look at how horrible things were!" and not enough detail or challenges to make me really care.

The same stories are told and re-told throughout the memoir novel, and they rely too much on symbolism for my taste. I don't know how many times The Glass Castle is mentioned, but it was clear enough the first time we're told about it. Yes, I get it. Pretty shiny vulnerable fragile fortress - drunk father whose fantasies are selfish and unstable. Mother who's out to lunch. No money - just imaginations. Okay. Got it.

Then, before we really have connected to any of the characters in their youth, we fast forward to today's NYC in which lo and behold, the storyteller is a successful writer. Gag.

Basically, this book is a pale imitation of The Liar's Club. Karr's book is a jump off a cliff into a bravely realized memoir with enormous depth in the details, not to mention the writer's conflicted feelings about the meaning of father, of mother, of family, of self. By being so specific about her life and her family's life, Karr touches us deeply about family and self, too.

Walls had an interesting life, but the story reads like someone else's family's trip. So that's why I'm giving it a 2. :)
Profile Image for Kate.
183 reviews1 follower
September 1, 2007
This book really made me angry--why can people who have absolutely no business having kids be able to have four?

Let me backtrack...

In the beginning, the Walls family is always on the run. The father is an alcoholic, who is intelligent, but believes everything upon everything is a conspiracy. He can't get a job because of the mafia, the government, the gestapo...The mother has a teaching degree, but chooses to be an artist. The family is barely able to scrape by; the father spends any money they have on alcohol, the kids barely eat, and all this time, the mother sits around, doing nothing but reading. In fact, at one point, the 12 year old narrator Jeannette tells her mother that she needs to get a job, and her mother says that it's "not fair" that she has to work. Later, when Jeannette suggests that her mother get a job and home with a wealthy family and take care of the kids, her mother says, "I've spent my whole life taking care of people! I just want to take care of me."

Perhaps now you can see why this book made me so angry. I know that there are people like Jeannette's parents who feed their children margarine sandwiches and tell them to go to the bathroom in a bucket that is dumped outside because there's no indoor plumbing and the "toilet" is already completely filled. I know that these people exist, but I still can't believe it. A part of me was hoping that Walls pulled a James Frey and made a lot of this up, but another part of me realizes she probably didn't.

Despite the knot in the pit of my stomach, I enjoyed the book. After all, only a book this engaging and well-written could spark such a vivid and real response. It's a quick and easy read, and despite how angry I was for most of it, the book gave me hope that no matter how messed up a person's childhood is, he/she can still end up as a normal, productive part of society.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
October 27, 2020
Overly-Woke to Family Values

Jeanette Walls should not be alive. Her actuarial chance of surviving was close to zero in her Keystone Cops version of childhood. With two dipsy parents, one a violent drunk, the other a spaced-out avatar of Vishnu, she had experiences which the SAS would have had difficulty enduring. Severe scalding, scorpion bites, being thrown from a moving car, locked in the back of a truck for fourteen hours, incipient starvation, drowning, and mauling by a cheetah, not to mention numerous punctures, falls, fights, and a questionable diet - these were routine events before she turned eight years old. Medical care was for sissies according to dad. And according to mother “Fussing over children who cry only encourages them.”

Both mom and dad were fantasists, and therefore good story-tellers. Their poverty, instability, inability to create social relationships, they claimed, were a blessing. The children could grow up hardened to the world’s oppression. And boy was there a lot of that. Dad was paranoid about the FBI, the CIA, and all the other members of the police-gestapo who were out to get him. But, hey, the constant need to be ready to ‘skedaddle’ from any temporary home in some God-forsaken mining shanty town was an opportunity to see the country wasn’t it? An education in itself really. And dad’s get-rich-quick ideas for gold-mining were sure to pay off just as soon as he could get the necessary capital together at the Las Vegas craps tables.

Walls inherited her father’s story-telling gene. She writes with wit and humour about a deplorable life with incompetent and psychotic parents. I find this distressing. The issue is not one of an acceptably eccentric alternative life style, or of an odd upbringing being overcome, or of children loving their parents in tough circumstances. It’s patently about unnecessary and avoidable abuse. Walls’s wit and humour romanticize her life. The poignancy of her portrayal of the caring dad after he almost killed her yet again, with no apparent irony much less sarcasm, is typical: "’You don't have to worry anymore, baby,’ Dad said. ‘You're safe now.’” This makes her book popular. And it may provide a way for her to deal with the effects of her childhood. It will certainly make a good film. But the fact is that on her testimony her parents are criminally irresponsible people who are lucky they weren’t caught and prosecuted. If it were an episode of SVU, Benson would have nailed them.
Profile Image for Nicole.
39 reviews12 followers
December 27, 2008
Why is it that I hated this book when everyone else thinks it was good? It annoyed me on so many levels. I kept thinking to myself...."alright, I get it...life sucks, move on". I just have so little sympathy and empathy sometimes, especially in books, that this just IRKED me. Sure, the writing was well done, the prose effective, the story was a bit enchanting...I just could NOT understand why this book got such great reviews. In fact, the reviews is why I kept reading it. Had someone else thought it was CRAP I would have put it down without finishing.

Walls whines and complains through the whole book about how difficult her childhood was, yet she was still able to be admitted to an IVY LEAGUE school. Ok, my childhood wasn't as bad as hers, I am bright, yet I hadn't the je ne se quoi to get into an Ivy league. Perhaps, the editor deleted a HUGE chapter in her memoir which would have filled the gap between living in a weatherproof shack and going to college, but it just didn't do it for me.

Okay, so most people will likely bash me for being an idiot, but I really don't care. It annoyed me. That's all for my rant...thanks for your time. :)
Profile Image for Melki.
5,789 reviews2,339 followers
October 16, 2015
This is not a review. There are already thousands of those. Instead, I present an anecdote.

I read this in 2008 for my now-defunct neighborhood book club. I decided that my oldest son, who was then 14, should read it for "Mom's Summer Reading Plan" - also known as the Mom-Forces-Us-To-Read-For-Half-An-Hour-Each-Day-Torture-Program by certain members of the family. I felt it was important for him to learn that not every child gets to grow up in a household that has eight different video game systems. I wanted him to imagine what it would be like if his father came home one night and said "We have to move right now. You can take ONE THING with you."

Well, he grumbled and he whined. Then he shut up and started to read. He never said too much about the book, though he liked the part where the rat would come to eat out of the mother's big bowl of sugar. And then I saw on his Facebook profile that he had listed The Glass Castle as his favorite book. Huh, how 'bout that?

And now, seven years later, my youngest son came home with the book he has to read for English class. Guess what it is?
You got it!

Ah . . . sweet vindication. Yup, yup, yup!
Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,742 followers
April 21, 2018
A review on the back of my copy reads:

Jeannette Walls has a story to tell, and tells it brilliantly, without an ounce of pity.

No pity? Yep. You've got that right.

No pity and NO EMOTIONS whatsoever. And certainly no humor.

Ms. Walls tells her story like a journalist, which of course, she is, but it didn't work for me that she wasn't sharing her story, but reporting the facts.

I felt cheated and unsafe throughout this entire read, as though Ms. Walls was allowed to be robotic and detached, but I was supposed to be delighted by the love she tried to sell as the basis of this memoir. The family that betrays together stays together?

Love? Like the love her father expressed as he tried to sell her young body to a stranger? Like the love her mother conveyed by allowing them to live in filth, be homeless, be neglected, hungry, unclothed and so on? These parents were the most loathsome narcissists I've ever had the misfortune to meet.

I needed Jeannette Walls to crack me up at the absurdity of it all (David Sedaris style) or BURN THE DAMN HOUSE DOWN TO THE GROUND. Here's the match, Jeannette, take it from my hand.

This glass castle, built on garbage, was a garbage read for me, despite placing me in an incredible minority by declaring so.

This was a book that celebrated impotence, enabling and neglect and there was no catharsis here, no retribution, either.

I was as angry as the Count of Monte Cristo by the end of this read.

I demand my revenge!
Profile Image for Scot.
956 reviews29 followers
March 6, 2008
I know many people love this book, remarking on how powerful and moving it was, but I had some deep problems with the narrator's memory process, and some issues about what lessons I was ultimately supposed to learn here. It is a riveting tale, full of unforgettable suffering, strife, and perseverance, about growing up with two bohemian-minded parents, one a raging alcoholic and the other a manic depressive. It is the story of the dangerous synergy that combination produced, and how the narrator and her siblings endured, withstood, and (well, some of them) triumphed. The film, when made, should do well at the box office. However, I am reminded of how a friend once explained Narcissism to me. "Narcissists," he said, "have to be the biggest Victims in the room and the strongest Heroes in the room--and they demand to be recognized as both at the same time."

My problem is, I found the narrator to be narcissistic, and I stopped believing her version of all the events, especially after I came across a few factual references that totally seemed incorrect based on my own experience and knowledge. These were things someone who lived the experience would have known. (She certainly claims to have a vivid memory of a lot of things that happened when she was three years old, too!) Although doubtful of the veracity, I was compelled by the series of diverse settings, the odd mix of characters, and the ongoing unpredictable calamities to read on and see what happens, if anything, at the end.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews866 followers
June 18, 2022
“Things usually work out in the end."
"What if they don't?"
"That just means you haven't come to the end yet.”

Jeannette Walls' controversial book, 'The Glass Castle,' now a movie | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle is a compelling memoir. It’s no stretch to say Walls had an unconventional childhood. It’s part adventure, part how do I live through this and make it to the next day. Walls’ matter-of-fact tone makes an account of her childhood effective and keeps it focused on the events which both brought her family together as well as those which tore them apart. She is not a victim in this memoir. She doesn’t ask for sympathy for herself and she doesn’t blame her parents for how she was raised (much). In fact, she finds parts of her parents’ behavior (when not bordering on outright neglect) admirable.

Walls easily could have talked about any of several traumatic experiences and how she was scarred by them (and perhaps is still working through issues). If she had gone that route, The Glass Castle would have been a completely different book. Still, by the end of this memoir, the reader marvels at how Walls (as well as her siblings) escaped their parents while still maintaining a relationship with them. An amazing read!
Profile Image for Suz.
1,096 reviews565 followers
August 11, 2019
Honestly, simply a must read. Wow. Firstly, thank you to my friend Elyse for recommending this book. She knows what I like. Wow this woman. Wow this family. I have just finished reading this books last pages whilst making my lasagne to feed my family, hastily stirring the white sauce and throwing in the bay leaves. The irony isn't lost on me.. I needed to finish this story. But! Mental illness is all around. This family is a perfect example, and also one of resilience. Hey, these children have more successful careers than I do! I always tell my kids that it takes all types to make the world go round. Jeannette Wells has crafted this memoir with passion and strength and devotion, but what blew me away most of all, there was not one shred of self pity packed into this. I know what I'm like in my little world, there is no way I could be this giving, NO WAY! I'm very interested in this amazing lady, I will find her books now and I so look forward to see how she's travelling. I could learn a thing or two, and that's what I'm always looking for. And she can write!!

**Addendum: This was an amazing book that my favourite GR friend from the States recommended. I went to the library and got my copy. Months later I came across this book in my (unorganised double layered Ikea shelf thingy) book shelf, that I'd borrowed from my aunt in Queensland. It turns out all of her siblings had read it, making their own notes all over the book. This was a special book, I shouldn't have taken it with me.. But I'm so glad I got to return it. It turns out my aunt had had a similar childhood - I knew she'd struggled, but didn't realise to the extent. This book connection made me love my Aunty Donna even more. We aren't close geographically but I got to see her last month and talked about the book, and that I am grateful for.

When 'people' say they've had it hard, have they really?
Profile Image for Tracy.
Author 31 books174 followers
January 21, 2008
Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls proves in her astounding memoir that bad parenting and abject poverty do not necessarily condemn children to a dismal future of the same. In "The Glass Castle" published in 2005 by Scribner, Walls reveals the intimate details of her upbringing within a dysfunctional yet loving family.

"The Glass Castle" immediately grips you with an opening scene in which Walls, as an adult in New York City, sees from the window of her taxi her mother scrounging through a dumpster. Her mother is homeless – one of those bag ladies that all of us see – but now you suddenly have to wonder what it would feel like if that was your mother dangling at the fringe of our society.

From this shocking moment, Walls transports you back to her earliest memory. She is three years old and suffers a terrible burn to her torso when her dress catches on fire as she is boiling hotdogs on the stove. A long stay at the local hospital near where her family is currently living in Arizona ensues while Walls recovers. To the hospital staff, the negligence of the parents is obvious, but Jeannette does not associate the murmuring disapproval around her with her parents.

If any action on the part of social services is planned, we never find out because her father, Rex Walls, plans an early check out from the hospital in his trademark "Rex Walls' style." This means that he will grab his little girl and skip out of the hospital bill that he has no intention or means of paying.

Jeannette is whisked away with her father, mother, older sister and younger brother and the family hits the road. It begins just one of many journeys in which the Walls family ends up in ramshackle trailers and shacks throughout the deserts of Nevada, Arizona, and California. They stay someplace a while until Rex can't pay the rent or won't and they skip town and do it all over again.

Rex inspired the title of the book with the plans, lovingly worked out on paper, for his "glass castle" that he aspires to build some day. He often reassures his children with the promise of this fanciful housing. It is to be a solar-powered house, but first he needs to raise the money to build it, which entails numerous gold prospecting schemes that are doomed to failure. Because gold-hunting never pays the bills, Rex also finds work as an electrician or handyman. He is smart and mechanically talented, but his earnings inevitably are washed away in the flash floods of drinking that perpetually leave his family destitute.

In an engulfing narrative that sweeps you deeper into an almost unimaginable existence of privation, we see how Jeannette and her siblings cope with their destructively alcoholic father and beg their mother to function and get them food. The mother, in fact, has a teaching degree, but she rarely can drag herself into employability. Although the various rural areas where they live are always desperate for a qualified teacher, the mother cannot abide work and only occasionally holds down a job – with the help of her children who get her out of bed.

The infrequent paychecks of the mother rarely go into the rumbling bellies of her children. Rex will invariably claim his wife's paycheck and set about squandering it.

This desperate state goes on for years as the Walls children sleep in cardboard boxes instead of beds, endure scalding fights between their parents, and eat anything they can find. Their mother teaches them how to swallow spoiled food by holding their noses.

But even amid these horrors of poverty and alcoholism, Jeannette Walls expresses the genuine love within her family. They are loyal to each other, and Rex, in his sober moments, is wise, encouraging, and tender with his children.

In her memoir, Walls brilliantly crafts her experiences so that we can see the transformation of awareness that takes place as she grows up. As a little girl, she is uncritical of her parents. She loves them and does not realize how awfully deprived her life is. But as she and her siblings mature, they definitely realize that the shortcomings of their parents are not acceptable.

The adolescent years of Jeannette are spent in West Virginia, where her father retreats to his hometown after going completely bust in Arizona. The life of the Walls in West Virginia is appalling as they occupy a shack at "93 Little Hobart Street." The roof leaks. The plumbing does not work. The Walls family buries its trash and sewage in little holes it digs. They almost never have any food. Jeannette goes through high school digging leftover sandwiches out of the garbage, and Rex fills the role of town drunk. As miserable want defines their lives, Jeannette's mother does the most infuriating things. When Jeannette and her brother find a diamond ring, they immediately want to sell it for food, but their mother keeps it to "improve her self esteem." And so they go on starving.

As Jeannette Walls tells the story of her disgraceful upbringing, you will admire her perseverance and that of her siblings. The Walls children eventually take charge of their own lives and support each other into normal adult lives in a beautiful display of closeness among siblings.

Every page of "The Glass Castle" will shock you with the shameless and selfish actions of parents who are unable and unwilling to even try to take care of their children or themselves. Despite her appalling parents, Walls rarely chastises them with her writing. Her love for her parents often comes through with aching dismay.

Much more happens throughout this amazing memoir than has been mentioned here. "The Glass Castle" is mesmerizing and an impossible book to put down. It is truly a masterpiece of storytelling and far superior than the typical bestseller.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Madeleine.
Author 2 books861 followers
September 5, 2012
It's no secret that I get to read on the job. I proofread for a financial publisher, which means that I spend my days getting lost in the lilting legalese of prospectuses, trustee meeting results, shareholder reports, highlight sheets – it's riveting stuff, trust me. But we're a small operation with only a few clients and the fiscal schedule is defined by a feast-or-famine work flow: While the numbers are still being tabulated, portfolio managers are polishing their semiannual interviews and style redesigns are being approved before the work descends in avalanches, I’m usually catching up on my reading with on-the-clock me-time.

Since it’s almost instinctive to dislike the person whose job it is scrutinize and correct everyone else’s work (especially when said person has one of the few oh-so-coveted offices with a window overlooking the bucolic charm of two parking lots and a heavily traveled roadway), I have spent the better part of my three years there endearing myself to my coworkers to soften the blow when I literally cannot hack through a report because it’s so choked with errors. My efforts have mostly paid off and a number of my mom-aged coworkers have grown rather maternal with me, as it’s also not a secret that I stopped speaking to my parents more than two years ago.

When a coworker recently came into my office brandishing an almost-finished book and saying that she kept thinking of me while reading this memoir she couldn’t put down, I assumed she was referring to the way I always have my nose in some kind of reading material at work. And then a little bit of research revealed that “The Glass Castle” was about growing up under the rule of parents who clearly had no business accepting the responsibility of parenthood, which was when I realized that this was my coworker’s way of reaching out to me.

A couple of days and maybe about 100 pages (and a lot of wincing because, holy crap, the Walls kids are tiny troopers) later, I got into a car accident during my commute home via a road that sees about seven or eight accidents a day, most of them during rush hour because it is a totally good idea to have a direct route to and from Philly narrow down to two lanes in one of the area’s larger suburban oases. Long story short, I escaped the ordeal with my admittedly low expectations of humanity exceeded by miles. As I watched the tow-truck driver (who was totally cool with my nervous habit of asking a thousand rapid-fire questions as he drove both my car and me to the auto-body shop) load up my beloved, battered car with minimal fanfare, the last sigh of relief I heaved tasted something like “At least I don’t have to explain this to my parents.”

The thought resurfaced throughout the evening, like when my husband met me at the mechanic's and I just lost whatever composure I'd been faking when he was right there to help me out of the truck before pulling me into a bear hug. And later when my in-laws, who live right next door and treat me like the daughter they’ve always wanted, greeted me with open arms, said that Mom’s car was all ready for me whenever I was ready to go back to work (as they all but told me that I was going to stay home for a day or two) and reiterated that “A car can be replaced but you can’t” every other sentence and meant it.

By the time I was going fetal on my couch and started to feel the damage that a seat belt and steering wheel are capable of (which is surprisingly extensive when you’re a small-statured, large-chested woman who always knew she’d pay for leaning too far forward while driving), still marveling over how I received neither a single verbal evisceration nor a ticket after two of the most emotionally draining hours of my recent existence, I blurted some garbled admission to my husband about not knowing how to stop expecting someone to punish me, which is about when I realized that I’ve spent my adult life bracing myself to be torn down for every misstep as if the fate of the universe relied on me not fucking up, which isn’t entirely unlike the way my parents reacted to the staggering majority of the things that came naturally to me.

I called out of work for two days not because my boobs were bleeding (they were) or because it hurt to move my neck (it did) or because pulling open doors made me feel like my chest was on fire (holy crap, did it ever), though my collection of minor injuries eased the terminally itchy conscience that won't even be appeased by having a valid excuse for calling out and leaving other people to pick up my slack unless I accept a load of Catholic-sized guilt in exchange lest I give myself a few justifiable recovery days without the appropriate reciprocal suffering. I needed some time to consider how much an inherently lousy experience opened my eyes to damage I didn’t even know I was still carrying around (what the hell, surely talking about going to therapy is just as good as actually going, right?). My coping method of choice? Alternately napping like a champ and juggling three books, including this memoir of the girl who was born to a bitterly brilliant drunk she idolized and an indifferent, self-involved artist who she tried so hard to understand, only to become the person she was meant to be with little support from the two people who should have been there to cheer her on all the way.

Like I’d said, I knew I wasn’t going to be unbiased in how I approached Jeannette Walls’s coming-of-age story: No matter how sympathetically she painted her parents (which she did quite well), I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from resenting them for failing their children. But then the little-girl hero worship Jeanette felt for her tortured, misunderstood genius of her father just struck every raw nerve I have and just poked and poked until I had to physically distance myself from the book. The killer was that I’d stew in whatever calamity last befell these children to the point of needing to know how things were resolved (or avoided entirely). It's distracting to be doing other things and thinking about the book you'd rather be reading.

Not even the blatantly narcissistic ravings of Jeannette’s mother sounded enough alarms to keep me from venturing back to this book if I’d stray too far for too long. And I’d’ve thrown the book across the room at Mrs. Walls’s “I’m not crying because you’re leaving me for New York City; I’m crying because you’re going and I’m not!” outburst had I not already been forced to corral all my determination to return this borrowed book in acceptable condition after Mama W -- whose “Oh, I don’t believe in discipline because children need to learn their own lessons” philosophy barely disguised the maternal disinterest and selfish absence that I know all too well – wailed that she has sacrificed so much for her children when the scamps had demonstrated time and again that they’re more responsible for their family than the matriarch is. I, uh, may have transferred a lot of my own lingering anger at my emotionally damaging mother onto Mrs. Walls, which makes me question how justified my screaming dislike of her is.

The less said about Papa Walls, the better. My father might not have been a hopeless drunk but I kind of wish he had some kind of excuse for routinely breaking promises to the children who thought the sun rose and set on him. An absent mother is easy to hate while growing up and even easier to pity once you’ve come of age. That simpering animosity is something you get used to after a while and, if you’re like Jeannette and a better person than I am, you simply accept that your self-involved mother has constructed such an elaborate alternate reality around herself that nothing real can get through to her if she doesn’t want it to, that she can even turn homelessness into an enviable adventure. But an idolized father’s fall from grace? The older you get, the harder it is when you finally realize the one person you’ve told yourself can do anything is the person who's let you down with the least remorse. That first hard look at how helpless and broken the man behind the curtain is.... that is not easy to come back from. That’s how little girls grow up to become giant messes.

When Jeannette found her way to the school paper and sampled her first taste of print journalism's sweet, sweet escapist nectar.... oh, my heart went out to her younger self in eagerly over-earnest ways. Being a half-consumed whiskey bottle rolling around an otherwise empty desk away from calling herself a true-blooded journalist at such a young age would have won me over if the entire book preceding such a moment hadn't already made me want to see Jeannette find her place in the world. Newsroom nostalgia will always be the easiest way to my too-soft heart.

I am amazed that this isn’t one of those “Oh my God, so let me tell you about my super-sad story so you’ll feel just awful about the craptastic childhood I had and then you’ll be totally amazed at how far I’ve come and how functional I am hey, why don’t you love me yet please love me and feel sorry for me I need your sympathy give it to me” memoirs, thank bouncing Baby Jesus. It’s a documentation of these things that happened to the four Walls children and how at least three of them embraced responsible independence and sibling camaraderie. Walls describes what she sees, reporting the facts and supplying exposition as needed like any good journalist. Also like a good journalist, emotions get minimal face time here. Jeannette is the perfect narrator because it seems as though she is the most willing to accept her parents for what they are. Even though I selfishly wanted to know how her adult self dealt with the fallout of her turbulent childhood (because every little adult grows up to be a big child, let's be honest), I found myself admiring how Jeannette was in no way reliant on cheap feelings to maneuver the story to its conclusion.

Jeannette and her siblings are the heroes of this story. They get themselves out of a bad situation one by one, fishing out each younger sibling as the means become available. Because what’s a better introduction to a new life of stability after years of only knowing that what comes next is an obstacle you can rely on exactly yourself and your equally young siblings to overcome?

Christ, I still have two more reviews to catch up on and a stack of pumpkin pancakes that are clearly not going to eat themselves (unless they plan to fight me for the privilege). In short, this book was fucking great but it struck far too close to home in ways I may have overly personalized. It didn't make me laugh like it did my coworker but it sure as hell did make me appreciate how Jeannette Walls turned out. I've had a lot of people recently and unknowingly demonstrate that humanity might not be as awful as I've always thought it to be, and witnessing a grown child forgive her parents for their many crimes against her certainly made for the kind of book that confirmed it's probably time to fix my perspective. Maybe we're not as fucked of a species as I've feared all along.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,740 reviews2,266 followers
August 11, 2017

“We take a chance from time to time
And put our necks out on the line
And you have broken every promise that we made
And I have loved you anyway”

-- “Like a Fool” - Keira Knightley/ Lyrics - John Carney/“Begin Again” Soundtrack

Dysfunction and crushing poverty are at the heart of this memoir, but love is there, as well. Readers might find it difficult to accept these things in the casual “this was my life” presentation, as though it had no effect on her, as though she is used to having others feel that one must choose to either love and embrace or cast aside the person who inflicted the craziness upon them. How difficult it must be to share such intimate details with the world and then sit back while they judge not only you based on your life, but also the people that you loved, love, despite themselves, despite the things they did or did not do.

Nothing about this memoir seeks pity, or condemnation of those who raised her, or even of the way she was raised, it just is the way it was, and now her life is different. Her rags-to-riches story takes her from Arizona to California to Welch, West Virginia, and eventually to New York City.

My father shared some of his stories with me about growing up poor in West Virginia, hours away from Welch, in another part of the state where there are also few economic options. Preacher, professor, farmer, the railroad, or by the time my father was old enough to think of a future, for just a few - a pilot. I would say he never looked back once he left, but the truth is he was friends with many from that small town until the day he died. Having been there, having heard his stories, stories of his friends growing up there, it was easy for me to envision these places she lived, the people.

Jeannette Wells has walked deep into her past in this memoir, her younger years were less than wonderful and yet she survived, flourished even, maybe. Certainly there must be scars of a childhood where neglect and hunger are so prevalent, where alcohol is more important than food, where clothing and shoes and shelter take back seat to liquor and chocolate bars. Parents are supposed to be the guardians of those too young to care for themselves, but frequently the children were left to fend for themselves or care for the parents. There are so many moments in this memoir that are horrifying, and she has both the physical and emotional scars from those years. And yet, what really shines through is the compassion and love she still feels after all was said and done.

“We finally find this
Then you're gone
Been chasin' rainbows all along
And you have cursed me
When there's no one left to blame
And I have loved you just the same”

-- “Like a Fool” – Keira Knightley / Lyrics by John Carney / “Begin Again” Soundtrack

Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews289 followers
December 19, 2016
A million stars!!! I LOVED this book! I wish I had had non stop uninterrupted hours to devour this book but I also didn't want it to end. I loved the family dynamics. What a unique bunch of people! The writing is simple and incredibly accessible so you felt really at home reading along. I actually had times where I felt envious of this nomadic carefree life that it had me rethinking my life of conventional suburban living. Made me think what a sheltered (boring?) life I've led lol. I love a book that takes me out of my comfort zone and gives me a unique and different perspective on life.

It's about a family who turn being poor (and boy I mean POOR!) and spin it into an adventure, they stick to their own values and don't care about conventions and fitting in. Although the parents are incredibly flawed many times clearly negligent, you also believed they loved each other immensely. The mum always optimistic and seeing the sunny side of life under the worst conditions was borderline psychotic not to mention criminal but still I loved all her crazy antics. The father always running away so he avoids paying bills and running from bad debts always doing the skedaddle made me laugh out loud many times. This was sad, funny (so funny!!) disturbing and a heck of a fun entertaining book full of whacky and colourful characters that you soon won't forget. I was amazed at the author's positive determination and resilience, she hardly ever had a bad word to say about her family other than to describe the scene. She never allowed her situation to dampen her outlook on life if anything it made her a more compassionate human being. What an admirable lady who deserves every success in life, she really is the definition of a rags to riches story and I loved every moment of this book. One of my favourite memoirs of all time!

Profile Image for Lucie.
100 reviews28 followers
August 16, 2020
Goodness this is beautifully written! This is easily the best memoir I've ever read, and I absolutely could not put it down.

Jeannette Walls shares the story of her childhood, growing up poor in Welch, West Virginia. To give you an idea of how poverty-stricken Welch is, it's the place where America's first food stamps were handed out.

Jeannette is the daughter of an incompetent, mentally ill mother and a clueless alcoholic father. But don't worry. It's not what you might think at first glance. This is not your typical cringy, shock-filled memoir. This is a gripping true story of laser-focused perseverance and hope.

This is a story about people with major issues (in this case, the parents) doing (I guess) the best they're capable of, even though it's not close to being good enough for their children.

This is a beautiful story of strength and survival -- having to raise yourself -- having to save yourself and your siblings. This story is lovingly told, not hate-filled at all, which demonstrates how children can't help but love their parents, even when they're being failed by them.
Profile Image for Marcie.
35 reviews
January 12, 2008
Once I let my frustration with the parents' neglect go, I actually enjoyed this book. Because of her matter-of-fact, non-whining writing, I enjoyed reading this book the entire time and actually put off other things so I could read more. As a disclaimer to my following comments, I am in no way condoning all of their parenting style and I also acknowledge they did not provide for their children like a parent should, but I have to say that I learned quite a bit from her parents! The positive things from this book stuck with me, not the negative ones, so that is what my comments will be about.
The description of her growing up years gave me ideas and motivation of how to be passionate about hobbies and life in general. Her parents taught me how to make learning fun and to see the potential in people and situations (i.e."this house needs fixing, but it has good bones"). I went away from this book with a desire to have more vigor and creativity in life and to pass that on to my children (i.e. the mom bought tons of shoes from thrift stores and played classical/jazz/country/etc. music and they danced around having a ball while learning all about different genres of music).
I also feel that we've become too much of "helicopter" parents -- hovering over our children making sure we direct every thought and action they have. We see this as helping, but I think it is actually detrimental to their own learning and growth. We are seeing the effects of dependent, inexperienced college-aged kids (this was most notable in southern CA). I think many of life's lessons could and should be learned at home, which means a loosening of the reins so that mistakes are still made while we are around to help as parents. Granted, in the book, her parents take this self-learning to an extreme, but I still learned from it. My perception is that (the US) society labels you as a "bad parent" if your child is allowed to 1)fall off a slide at the playground, 2)go without their snack one day at school if they forgot it(vs. you bringing it to them), 3) sort out a (non-physical) fight they got in with a friend without a parent getting involved, etc.
I also found it amusing that she had such hard time accepting that her mom wanted to be homeless. I can understand how she'd still be embarrased or get tired of having to explain to people, but I agreed with her mom when she said that her daughter had the problem with esteem because she still worried about what other people thought.
Anyway, it got me thinking so much about what's most important in life and how important love is (I never once doubted her parents love for her and she gave the impression that she never did either) that I highly recommend it! I had a couple friends that didn't like it, mostly because they couldn't get past things like her digging in trash cans at school because she was so hungry('People like that shouldn't be allowed to have kids' they said). But it was all the other things I learned (naming a star for your birthday) that makes me want to read it again.
Profile Image for Madeline.
775 reviews47k followers
January 14, 2019
I really don't know how I'm supposed to defend my dislike of this book? I mean, what kind of asshole says, "Man, this book about a woman's miserable childhood really bummed me out, two stars"?

But for real - this book about a woman's miserable childhood really bummed me out. Like, if you read Angela's Ashes and thought it just needed more sexual assault of the pre-pubescent protagonist, then The Glass Castle is for you! There's a bit early on where the dad takes his kids to the zoo and I sure hope you enjoy it, because that's pretty much the only truly happy interaction Jeannette Walls has with her parents for the rest of the book.

And it's totally unfair of me to complain about that. Jeannette Walls owes me nothing, and she definitely isn't obligated to gloss over the uglier aspects of her (I cannot emphasize this enough) truly awful childhood just to make readers more comfortable. So honestly, it's not even the fact that this book is XXX-rated Misery Porn that bothers me. What I really don't like about this memoir is that Walls, even as she recounts stories where she and her siblings were being routinely abused by her parents, seems unwilling to look this ugliness fully in the face, and condemn her parents for the way they treated her and her siblings. She ends (no spoilers, relax) on a note of, not quite forgiveness, but acceptance of the fact that her parents were just being true to themselves, and did the best they could.

And that's somehow the most depressing thing about the book. The Glass Castle seems to frequently market itself as a story of an unconventional childhood that was tough, sure, but full of love and adventure. (Probably the movie adaptation, which made major changes in order to make the story more heartwarming, is mostly responsible for this) But in reality, The Glass Castle is just the story of an abusive childhood, written by a woman who maybe doesn't realize how truly toxic her parents really are.

Anyway. If starving kids, alcoholic fathers, dangerously narcissistic mothers, and sexual assault makes up your preferred memoir cocktail, enjoy.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,097 followers
March 4, 2018
An extraordinary account of Parental neglect to the point of where I kept asking myself....could All this have possibably happened in one family?

I first read this book back in 2009 and didnt even write a review as I found the book depressing and relentless. This time it was nominated for my sit in book club and when the nomination was announced THE GLASS CASTLE I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, smiled and thought Ok might just pretend I read again and wing it when it comes to discussion night. But my friend who knew my dislike of the book encouraged me to read it as but this time as a BOOKCLUB READ with the discussion questions in mind and perhaps I may get more from the book second time around.

While reading this book I thought about my own family get-togethers and stories that would get told from our childhood days and while I remember very little to the point where I often asked " are ye sure I belong to the same family"? As I seem to remember so little and this is where I am amazed at how much the author remembers from her childhood.
Having said that if my childhood was eventful and full of as many odd characters as Jeanettes then perhaps my memory would serve me better.

And while my initial thoughts still remain I did mange to get more from the book, as this time I found the humor and the hope and while I do think perhaps many of the situations are a little embellished for the good of the story there is no doubt the Walls as kids saw some rough times and their parents really were in a league of their own when it came to parenting. How you come through a life like this and come out the otherside a well rounded and capable person really does say alot about this family. Overall I found this an interesting read and there are funny passages and moments throughout the story which second time around seemed to come through better for me than the first and perhaps this is because second time around I knew these kids were going to make it and I could relax a little.

Glad I took the time to read it again and looking forward to the discussion on this one.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews544 followers
February 23, 2017
Just finished reading this fantastic memoir for the second time after having enjoyed it the first go round over a decade ago. Knowing what was coming down the track, this reading was even more satisfying, as I could slow down and savor her words instead of rushing ahead.

I thought that everybody in the world had already read this but am in a new book club where my husband and I were the only ones lucky enough to have already done so. What a treat it was to revisit this after 10 years!

Walls had a truly dysfunctional childhood, but knew that she was the apple of her alcoholic father's eye. The love from him, her siblings, and her own plucky self-determination certainly gave her a path through some very bizarre circumstances and into a successful adulthood. Having her father take her hand and stick it through the bars of a cheetah cage at the zoo and being instructed by her mother to simply cut off the maggot-loaded portions of unrefrigerated food and eat the portion that had not yet been touched, Walls learned wonder and pragmatism from her oddball parents.

This book is loaded with anecdotes, one after another, full of amazing and horrifying and beautiful moments. As a parent myself, my loathing of the parents in the story climbed and climbed, but because this memoir was told from the perspective of Walls as a little girl first, I also fell in love with her mom and dad just a little bit. She narrates the tale in real time, and as she becomes a teenager with more open eyes, her disappointment in these parents becomes palpable.

One could say that this is a rags to riches story, but the treasure was always there - despite the poverty, they were rich in the love they had for each other.
Profile Image for Shawn McComb.
46 reviews5,875 followers
September 2, 2022
can’t believe I let this rot on my shelf for SO LONG… too good
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