Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When I gave birth to Greyson I was apprehensive about going home from the hospital because then I would be in charge of a whole human. Alone. With no oversight from nurses and doctors. I had a distinct feeling that a license should be required to reproduce and care for offspring.

And this book proves that I am absolutely right. These parents needed a license to reproduce. 

Jeannette Walls and her three siblings have some crazy parents. As the b book opens, Jeannette is an adult, riding in a car to a party through the streets of New York City, where she sees her mother rummaging for food in a dumpster. Because her parents choose to be homeless. Then we move right into a chapter about the 3-year-old Jeanette boiling hot dogs in a tutu while her mom paints in the other room, and when the tutu catches on fire, she has to be hospitalized for about six weeks and undergoes painful skin grafting. Her parents and siblings come to visit, but they often cause a ruckus and end up getting thrown out of the hospital. Until her father, Rex, decides she's been in for long enough and breaks her out "Rex Walls style." 

What a douche. 

The family is prone to "skedaddling" from their living quarters at any given time of the night, leaving their possessions, pets, and debts behind.  Rex is an alcoholic, and the mother, Rose Mary, just wants to be a famous artist. They scrape by on barely any income as Rex is constantly losing jobs, and they keep the kids' heads full of tall tales and good intentions so they won't realize what a couple of putzes they have for parents. 

This is an incredibly engaging book. I read the majority of it (200+ pages) in a single day, and I wanted to drop kick Rex and Rose Mary every step of the way. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop--to find out that they were both certifiably mentally ill, but that moment never came. Rex, and his alcoholism, are certainly a for-real condition. But Mary Rose? I couldn't tell if she was bipolar or just completely in denial. She had a teaching degree but refused to hold down steady work. Rex tried from time to time but consistently tumbled back into the bottle, stole money from his wife and kids, and generally conducted himself like an asshole. Issues, for sure.


The only thing Rex and Rose Mary seemed to do right along the way was force their children to be independent and resourceful. They were smart--both book and street smart. They "skedaddled" out their parents' house just as soon as they were old enough. Not a moment too soon. 

I tend to be leery of "sucky childhood memoirs" but this was one of the best memoirs I've read. I was thoroughly taken by this story of survival and wits, and I was SO genuinely relieved that the author and her siblings (for the most part) came out of this upbringing unscathed. It's a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. It's just a shame they had to learn these lessons at the hands of their parents. 

This is one of three books I'm reading for the Estella Project



Pub. Date: January 2006
Publisher: Scribner
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780594485643
Source: Bought with my very own money.

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BookTube-a-Thon Update #1


38 comments:

  1. I'm kind of torn about whether I should read this or not. I hate memoirs about terrible childhoods, but all the reviews I read are so great. Maybe something to consider as part of stepping out of my comfort zone... And I had the same thoughts when I brought my son home, it's crazy that there isn't some sort of training or test and that anyone can have a kid whether they take care of it or not. I also remember considering adoption and thinking about all the hoops you had to jump through, when having a kid naturally didn't involve any. But hey, I got him home, nature took over and I kept him alive! :-)

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    1. Definitely read it. It makes a difference that you know straight off that the author comes out fine. She also seems quite oblivious to her parents' ridiculousness until she's much older. On the one hand, it's sad to see the kids being duped by their parents, but I don't think the parents really realize they're doing it. They're all just sort of living their lives, having adventures, and rolling with the punches. They're nomads and free spirits even though that gets exhausting by the end of the book. I was amazed at how engaging this story was.

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  2. I have one book by Walls on my shelves - Half Broke Horses, I think. I've been wary about reading it for some reason, but feel better now! And I agree about the license to reproduce - that should definitely be a thing. I mean, I've watched people jump through more hoops to own a dog than be responsible for another tiny human.

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    1. I put that one on my Goodreads wishlist when I finished this one. It looks goood.

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  3. I adore The Glass Castle. It's a sucky childhood memoir, but somehow Walls still sounds compassionate toward her horrendous parents. Your description of Rex, "what a douche," is so succinct and perfect. A douche, indeed.

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    1. Yes! Exactly. I was amazed by her compassion for them because I just wanted to kill them. But I suppose until she got older and realized what goofballs her parents were, it seemed like quite a magical, adventurous childhood.

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  4. It's on my Best Memoirs list, too. I read a chapter yesterday from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal and now I'm eager to read it. Quite certain the parents in Why Be Happy will vie with Glass Castle parents for Most Awful.

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    1. Ooh, I'll have to look that one up. I have The Bohemian Love Diaries on my TBR and it might be another example of this type of memoir.

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  5. I read this years ago and was amazed at the resiliency of Walls and her siblings. I do think both of her parents were mentally ill.

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    1. I they were, too, but I wanted someone "official" (in the book) to agree with me! I kept waiting for CPS to take the kids and for the parents to be evaluated or something. Gah!

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  6. Such a fantastic book. I really do want to re-read this. Lovely review as always my dear!

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    1. Yep, it's going on my keeper shelves for a re-read later.

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  7. I can't get over my shyness around memoirs enough to read this one, even though I've heard great things about it. Another great review, Andi!

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    1. Aww, what's the mental block about memoirs? Just not your cup of tea?

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  8. I had no desire to read this one, but I had to since I taught it to our senior level composition class a couple of years ago. I always thought that was a brave choice on part of our district...there is some intense language and situations.

    I do have to admire the tenacity of Jeannette and her siblings. They really had to struggle to get out, and I'm glad that even with everything against them, they turned out okay. The same can't be said for a lot of kids in their situation!

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    1. Did you like it once you read it, Allie?

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  9. A friend and I were just discussing this book yesterday! She just got the newest book by Walls and was asking me what I thought of The Glass Castle, assuming that, like so many readers, I'd already picked it up. Sounds like I need to, and I'm glad to know from the get-go that Jeannette manages to rise above it all.

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    1. I think you'd looooove it, Meg.

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  10. I need to re-read this. It's an amazing story, really because of how they were able to hang in there and get out of such a horrible situation when they could. :(

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    1. It's definitely going to be a re-read for me too.

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  11. I loved this book! I wish I kept my copy of it - your review is spot on.

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    1. This one is definitely going on my keeper stacks!

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  12. Aaah! This one made me crazy at times but it was such an engrossing book. I could never figure out what was going to happen next. I believe this author has another book out and I'm definitely going to read it at some point. But wow...glad to hear you enjoyed it too :)

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    1. Wasn't it??? I was just all stirred up when I finished reading it. I have thought about it A LOT since then.

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  13. One of the best memoirs I've ever read...I also listened to this one on audio. Walls narrates it herself. I couldn't tear myself away and would just sit in the car even after I reached my destination :/

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    1. I bet the audio is awesome. I can definitely see it keeping you glued to the car.

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  14. I'm leery of "sucky childhood memoirs too" (and far too many memoirs), but everyone raves about this one. I need to finally squeeze it in. I think I'm finally learning, "if the writing is good, I don't really care what it's about" applies to memoirs too.

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    1. It's really worthwhile, and I had my doubts too. All the doubts.

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  15. I hated this book, but only because it really reached me. It made me so angry that there was way to help this family. I thought it should be read by everyone in the mental health field everyone who makes policy for the mentally ill-- along with Pete Earley's Crazy. This father struck me as so obviously delusional, so likely bi-polar. And while some of the children like Walls survived and thrived, I would guess her youngest sister did not. I was taken by Walls' tone -- she doesn't make a lot of judgment about what was happening. She just relates the story. I am amazed by her wisdom in doing so.

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    1. I was also taken by the lack of judgement. I was judging enough for Walls and myself. lol And yes, I agree re: bipolar. It's a really affecting book -- one I'd like to discuss with my book club.

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  16. I ended up loving this one. I really loved the book based on her grandmother's life, Half Broke Horses, so good!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear that! I have Half-Broke Horses on my Goodreads "want to buy" list.

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  17. I LOVE this book. I am not a huge memoir reader so I always give this to memoir-shy readers. You just can't make that stuff up. It is amazing how those kids turned out. Makes me feel better about my own parenting ;)

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    1. Right??? Me too re: parenting. I was just totally taken aback. So affected by this book.

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  18. I started this and then was so appalled that it got set down and never picked back up. I'm hoping to finish it this summer, though, for the Estella Project.

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    1. It was worth the read, even though it was really HARD to read. I put it down knowing that I read a great book but still with my mind buzzing 90-to-nothing.

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  19. I really loved The Glass Castle (Half-Broke Horses is good too). When I heard Walls speak a few years ago, she said that her mom was living with her in Virginia. What I especially liked about the memoir is how the siblings really looked out for each other.

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  20. I have seen this book around a lot but did not realize what it was about. I'm suddenly super intrigued and want to read it. Thanks for opening my eyes to this one.

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