Review: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle Book Cover

The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls
Simon & Schuster
January 2006
304pp

The Short of It:

At its core, The Glass Castle is a story of survival which will break your heart and leave you cheering.

The Rest of It:

As I get older, I find that books mean more to me. The messages contained within are not always easy to decipher, but The Glass Castle left me with a wonderful sense of peace.

Jeannette Walls could be my long-lost sister. She doesn’t know this, of course, but we share quite a few similarities and grew-up in very similar households. The Walls family lived the life of nomads. Rex and Rose Mary Walls were “creative” types. Their big dreams often outweighed the fact that the family hungry, without proper clothing and living in housing that was basically held together by band-aids. Add to this the fact that they had four children and you’ve got a bit of a mess on your hands.

After getting 3rd degree burns while trying to keep the house warm, Jeannette’s older sister Lori is given this little bit of knowledge by her mother:

What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

The resiliency expressed in that short statement is as refreshing as it is frustrating. Rex aspires to be an inventor and has high hopes and big ideas that never come to fruition. Rose Mary, is an artist and feels that working a regular job would interfere with her desire to paint. As obstacles overcome them, and alcoholism and depression come into play, they choose to flee instead of dealing with their particular situation.

When they are not running, they are dreaming of “a glass castle” where all is perfect and beautiful.

In between lapses of better judgment, there are moments of genuine affection. Quite a bit of it. It’s clear that Rex, loved his children very much. I also felt that Rose Mary had love for her children as well, but she was so wrapped-up in a false sense of happiness to really see the damage their lifestyle was causing on the family as a whole.

If these kids fell down, they had to pick themselves up. If they were hungry, they had to find their own food which often meant digging through trash cans. If they had a problem at school, they had to resolve it themselves. Yes, this created very independent kids who could stand on their own two feet, but at what cost? One wonders.

The book is basically a collection of stories told from Jeannette’s point of view and follows her from childhood into adulthood. Each section  is very brief, which is good because you will be frustrated by these parents and the living condition that these children are forced to endure.

I found it slightly episodic and repetitive. I would have liked a bit more of a  transition between the stories, but when I think back on my childhood, my memories are episodic as well so I didn’t let this little quibble interfere with my reading.

In case you’re interested, here are some similarities between Jeannette’s experience and my own. Pardon me for using her first name but I feel as if I know her personally:

  • We both had furniture that was unconventional. She had tables made out of empty spools and I had cinder block couches and shelves. No comfy reading chairs for me.
  • Major injuries were not always treated by a medical professional. I broke my leg when I was 9 and my Dad told me that a cast would make my leg weaker. Four years of adult ballet were necessary to correct my turn out.
  • Jeannette made her own set of braces out of rubber bands and a feminine hygiene products. My braces were made out of paperclips and rubber bands. Check out my profile pic, did they do the job?
  • Her father took their savings and spent it on drink. My father took my savings too. I’ve no idea what he spent it on but I believe Vegas was in the mix.
  • The Walls refused to be on welfare. My parents did the same, even though we went without food for as many as 5 days at a time.
  • Christmas was bunk. Kids were spoiled by materialistic extravagances. Rex and Rose Mary saved their kids from all that. Mine did too.

The list goes on. The only difference between her family and mine, is that I have no fond memories of my childhood. As frustrating as her situation must have been, she never seemed to lose hope and her father, in his own twisted way, tried to impress upon them the importance of imagination and forward thinking.

You’re probably wondering how such a book, with so many similarities to my own life could leave me with an overwhelming sense of peace. Well, we both managed to pull ourselves out of a very bad situation and we’re sane, functioning members of society. I believe that the individuals I came in contact with, inspired me to rise above my situation. I believe the same can be said for Jeannette and most of her siblings. You just never know which act of kindness will be remembered later.

This book has been around for quite some time but we just picked it for next year’s Freshman Common Reading book. I think professors will be able to work it into their curriculum no matter what their discipline, be it economics, family and consumer sciences, ethnic studies, gender studies, psychology, sociology, etc.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher, via the Freshman Common Reading program at CSUN.

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32 thoughts on “Review: The Glass Castle”

  1. I have wanted to read this book for ages. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years. It kind of scares me, mainly because it hits a little close to home. After my mother read it, and loved it, I was inspired to purchase it, but I still haven’t summoned the courage to crack that first page yet. Maybe I’ll force myself to take that step soon…

    1. Yes!! I avoided it too because it was too close to home for me, but since I am on this panel to choose the next common reading book, I had to read it. I’m glad I did. As I was saying to someone else, it somehow manages to NOT be depressing.

  2. Wow, Ti! Isn’t it amazing what we learn about ourselves and others when sharing books? The similarities you have with the Walls family are heartbreaking but I’m glad can read this book without bitterness and come away feeling good about it. I’ve had this book for awhile and after reading your touching review I am going to pull it out of the pile and put it on top. Thanks for sharing such a personal side of your life with us.

    1. I say, pull it out. The situations are heartbreaking but the author’s pluck and common sense sort of pull you through it without dragging you down.

  3. I’ve always admired you Ti but I never knew you had been through such a childhood. I can’t even imagine how this book made you feel. I know I fip-flopped between feeling like a homicidal maniac filled with rage and a love for Jeanette’s resiliance and ability to see past her parents’ faults and still love them. In a world filled with stories of family dysfunction, this one rises above them all.

    1. I know what you mean, Sandy. I often found myself frustrated by the parents and their apparent lack of concern over the rearing of their children. Don’t even get me going on the number of children they had. If putting food on the table isa challenge, you’d think they’d consider this before having more…but not so. BUT, the story was hopeful in many ways too and dare I say it? It was sort of humorous in parts too… Like being able to find a good trait in Hitler.

  4. When I read this book I couldn’t believe all that the narrator experienced growing up and it’s heartbreaking to think that you read this and recognized your own struggles. You inspire me and make me grateful for the simple things I had every day as a kid… like food. You have come so far and overcome more than most people will ever have to face.

    1. I am never sure how much I should share or if I should share at all, but reading this book and seeing all of the similarities was unreal to me. My husband had a hard time relating to the relationship I hold with my parents…until he met them. Then he understood. This book reminded me that I am not a lone island. There are others like me. There is something very comforting in that, although I wouldn’t wish that childhood on anyone.

  5. I was raised on the sometimes annoying idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, too, although the circumstances of my childhood were different. Yours is the first review I have read of this book although I have been curious about it for some time. It sounds like a captivating book, intriguing and troubling. Your feeling of connection with the author is fascinating. Ti, it bothers me that you have no fond memories of your childhood. But what’s inspiring and remarkable is you’ve become a wonderful woman, an awesome mom and wife with a strong family. It would have been easy to let such an upbringing sour your life. In the same way, Ms. Walls has used the adverse circumstances of her upbringing as inspiration.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your review and want toread this book…and hope too soon!
    ~ Amy

  6. Ti, first of all, I appreciate the fact that you felt comfortable enough with all of us to share some very personal things. I’m sorry for what you’ve experienced, but I do believe that you’ve gone on and created a life that certainly has joy and is rewarding. That is quite an accomplishment.

    None of us ever know what we might have to endure or deal with, but it’s our reaction to these things and having the strength to get past them and move on that is important. I salute you.

    And, I’ve been interested in reading this book for a long time. Perhaps this will be the year.

  7. Ti, thank you for sharing what must be difficult memories for you. I’m glad you were able to rise above it all and become the wonderful person you are today.

    I read this book a few years ago with my book club and we all really liked it. I’m glad you were able to read it and it left you with a feeling of peace.

  8. Oh wow, Ti! You’ve alluded to your childhood before, but I had no idea. I’ve always wondered why some people are able to rise above a situation like that and others get mired down into it. It sounds like you should write your own book.

    1. I do believe that I am getting to a point in my life where I might be able to put some of it down on paper. It’s been stewing around in my head for years…the writing part. We’ll see.

  9. Ti, I think you are a strong chica to share such personal details with us. I’m glad you were able to read this book (which I’ve never read or even knew what it was about until now) and have a feeling of peace afterward. From what I can tell via your blog and FB, you are such an amazing person who has definitely risen above and beyond what you had to endure. Thanks for sharing 😉

  10. Ti, it is difficult to know how much to share, isn’t it? I feel the same way about your situation as I did Jeannette Walls’ situation when I first read her book…you both are absolutely incredible human beings with some serious grit. Jeannette is visiting one of the Indie bookstores in Jackson at the end of the month and my oldest daughter and I are going to make the drive to go and listen to her speak. Thank you for sharing such a private part of your life…you never know whose life you will touch or save by sharing yours 🙂

  11. What a moving review Ti! I read this book several years ago and while I don’t remember a lot of specific details, I do remember being so, so frustrated with her parents! I also remember being so amazed and moved by the authors actions and thoughts she shared when as an adult she came across her mother living a homeless life–it seemed that she was able to have empathy for her and forgive her in a way. Did I remember that correctly? Do you know what scene I am talking about?
    It is so true that we never know how an act of kindness and care will affect a child—so glad you were able to rise above that childhood and have a family of your own!
    *smiles and hugsA*

  12. I remember you telling me bits and pieces about your childhood before, and I do think you have all the makings of memoir like “The Glass Castle” in you if you ever choose to try.

    I read this book a few years ago and it still stands as one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. It was heartbreaking yet inspiring. I’m glad you, who have so much in common with this author, found the same sense of strength and inspiration as she did to “escape” your childhood and thrive in the world. It takes an amazing person to do that … and you are amazing.

  13. I thought this book was amazing, mainly because I never got that sense of “poor me” from the author. And it’s the same with you…you’re a strong, strong woman.

    Have you read Let’s Not Go To The Dogs Tonight?

    1. I haven’t read Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight. Actually, your mention of it is the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll Google it. I know some people had trouble reading The Glass Castle but I think because I knew how the story ended, that I was a bit more comfortable with it. And even withmy situation, I never once thought I’d be living that lifestyle forever. I think knowing that sort of carries you through. I learned firsthand that poor choices were the reason and I didn’t plan to make the same ones.

  14. I read this book and thought it was very well written, and her love for her family and her sense of hope really do come through well throughout. It was brave of you to share your story with us.

  15. Thanks for sharing, Ti. I am in agreement with those above who say you should write a book. I am incredibly interested in your life (maybe because I “know” you and can see how well you turned out?). I’ve always wondered if this book would be too devastating to read, but now I’m intrigued.

  16. Reading this must have been an interesting experience for you…I’m glad it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been, though. I read it several years ago with my book club, and it definitely gave us a lot to talk about. Thanks for sharing some of the ways in which it resonated for you.

  17. I read this one and thought much of the same things, especially about surviving it and become a better person!! But honestly, I’d rather read your story!

  18. I loved this book as well and while my childhood was difficult, you clearly connected on a deeper level with this book. Thank you for sharing and it seems you came so far with your life and I am proud to know you!

  19. An unexpected review here. I didn’t expect it to hit so close to home for you, and it is odd how it left you with a sense of peace.

    My wife read this and said it was very good, but I just haven’t brought myself to read it. Being in a funk lately hasn’t helped. But it’s on my list….for some time, maybe just not this month or this winter. 🙂

  20. Incredible review Ti! I find it amazing how each human being has to pick themselves up from bad situations, but how we all react differently due to these memories. So glad that you could “pull yourself up by the bootstrings” and make your life what it is today!

  21. I’m so impressed that you were able to read this book, hitting as close to home as it does. I’ve just started it and understand how a small child might be able to still love her parents but I can’t imagine that continuing.

  22. I just read The Glass Castle and even though I could not put it down, I found myself becoming angry all through the book. I could not believe this could be a true story. I don’t see how Jeannette could ever forgive these people, her parents. I’m sorry, but parents that could treat their kids the way these kids were treated do not deserve to be forgiven. Case closed.

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