The Glass Castle: A Memoir

by Jeannette Walls

Paperback, 2006

Call number




Scribner (2006), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages


Now a major motion picture from Lionsgate starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts. MORE THAN SEVEN YEARS ON THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST The perennially bestselling, extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, "nothing short of spectacular" (Entertainment Weekly) memoir from one of the world's most gifted storytellers. 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.… (more)

Media reviews

''The Glass Castle'' falls short of being art, but it's a very good memoir. At one point, describing her early literary tastes, Walls mentions that ''my favorite books all involved people dealing with hardships.'' And she has succeeded in doing what most writers set out to do -- to write the kind
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of book they themselves most want to read.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
Oh. My. God.

Walls has a non-fiction novel coming out this month, so I decided to re-read the book that started all the ruckus before I got Half-Broke Horses.

A little backstory: I was romantically involved with a man for some time while I lived in Austin, whom I met on a bus. I got on the bus, sat a
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few seats behind the cute, sandy-haired, rumpled guy with the prominent ears I spotted from the pay-stile, and sighed the happy sigh of one whose world contains all the things he needs: A job, a home, and all the men he can mentally undress and ravish.

I was mid-mental ravishment when Blondie upset the applecart by bursting into tears. As quietly as he could, of course, but tears. A stop later, still crying. Stop after that, still crying. I got up, moved into the seat next to him across the aisle, and said, "What the hell're you reading? I wanna be sure I never set an eyeball on it." That got a laugh, and he held up The Glass Castle and said it was sort of the story of his life.

We talked for four hours that day. I gave him my email and number, and things progressed pretty smoothly until August of last year, but that's another story.

He'd just read Walls's tale of her father taking her pubescent self to a pool-hall and getting her within an inch of getting raped, just so he'd have beer money. It struck a chord, and the story of his own stepfather's abuses of Mr. Man came spewing out of him. I've read the book before just now, specifically so I could discuss it with Mr. Man, but I did so with an already numbed horror bone and a severed humor tendon.

Only now that I am several years beyond that initial encounter with the book can I see how very funny the tragic events in it are, and were to the author. I can see that it's gallows humor of a sort...but also that it's all perfect proof that life's a Zen joke.

If you can chuckle at Dolly Parton's apercu, "You have no idea how much it costs to look this cheap," then Walls is the next step up the Sisyphean slope of learning how to laugh like the Dalai Lama. It's a hard life that etches grooves in the looking-glass, but it's a path worth taking if you can get to the place where "textured" is valued more than smooth. Read the book, you'll know what I mean.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
Oh, Jeannette Walls. How you ever turned out to have a normal adult life I shall never know. Your childhood was ridiculous - unbelievable really. Your memoir, The Glass Castle, made my neck sore from constantly shaking my head in shock. You know that day when Children's Aid showed up at your door?
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Had I been you, I would have jumped for joy, would have begged to be put in a foster home. But not you. Oh no, you did not want to leave your family. I still cannot comprehend why.

You are lucky that the scar you received at age three when you caught on fire cooking hotdogs is the only permanent physical mark on your body. Between rolling out of your moving family car, sleeping in cardboard boxes, living in houses infested with giant rats, and never having enough to eat, one would think that you would not have lived to see adulthood. But you did. You managed to get away from your psychotic parents and make a life for yourself. Congratulations.

You may not be much of a writer, Ms. Walls - do you have any emotions? I certainly did not detect any - but you have a story that halts the reader in her tracks. Every few pages I wanted to turn to someone and say, "can you believe this?" In fact, my students who are reading your memoir do just that. For this, I am eternally grateful to you. Your story caused non-readers, kids who do not enjoy school, to ask, no, beg, to spend an entire period reading. Do you know how rare that is? Trust me, it is rare.

You never seem to regret your upbringing, and I do find this troubling. Do you really think you benefitted from your parents' unconventional methods? Maybe a person can get used to anything, if it is all they ever know. Or maybe you just held back in your writing, worried you would wound your family. Lucky for the reader, while you skimped on the emotions, you never withheld the facts. We see for ourselves the horrors you experienced, and we can condemn, even if you cannot.

So, Ms. Walls, I find myself with mixed feelings regarding your memoir. On the one hand, it is a great teaching tool. But on the other, I am not thrilled with your emotional distance, or the message that you seem to be sending. The very fact that you were never taken away from your parents is a failure of justice. Yes, you survived, but at what cost to yourself? By the end of The Glass Castle, I was still shaking my head - not at your parents, but at you. Yes, family is important, but at some point you need to ask yourself: is your family a source of love, or a source of pain?
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
The first thing Walls tells us about at the opening of her memoir is how she was all dressed up one night being driven to some swanky event or another in Manhattan when she looked out the window and saw a homeless woman digging through trash... and recognized her as her mother. She was so bummed
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out by this that she felt she couldn't face a crowd of swells and keep pretending she was just like one of them, so she opted to skip the soirée and go back home. Eventually she decided she didn't want to continue being ashamed of her past, which was the motivation for her to write this account of her formative years. The story she proceeds to tell us is a harrowing one and tells of unspeakable neglect, to the point of complete insanity, and indeed, it becomes very clear that severe mental instability was probably what drove her parents to so obsessively dedicate themselves to living a non-conformist lifestyle. As an example, the second episode she tells us about is how, as a three year old, she was cooking hotdogs over the stove when her dress caught on fire and she suffered 3rd degree burns which required her to get skin grafts. Her mother had been fully cognizant of what little Jeannette had been doing and often let the little girl cook by herself as she was occupied in her studio, working on her paintings. The hospital staff where she was being treated were highly suspicious that little Jeannette was probably a victim of parental abuse, which she emphatically denied. Then he father, convinced that hospitals and doctors did more harm than good, took her away from there before she had been fully recovered and brought her to a witch doctor instead. From then on, the story unfolds, recounting the travails of a family which went from one disastrous situation to another, with an alcoholic father who couldn't keep a job and a mother who refused to take her responsibilities, and put her aspirations to be an artist before her children.

It's a distressing tale, and I've seen reviewers comment that Walls had probably put a creative spin on the facts to tell a more dramatic story, but I'm not so sure that her story owes more to fiction than reality. From a personal point of view, the level of dysfunction in her family made my strange upbringing seem completely normal and conventional in comparison, but then, hopefully that would be the case for most readers as well. However, having been a witness to very strange and unconventional situations and known people who were most definitely living on the fringe of society, I know that her story is unfortunately all too possible. Walls has a dispassionate way of recounting her past and gives us just enough detail so we can imagine ourselves right there with them all too well, but I found it was impossible to look away; it was an absolutely fascinating observation of a catastrophe extending over several decades, yet it also told of incredible resilience and love, and of siblings who truly looked out for one another and not only survived, but managed to become well-adjusted adults. Walls was able to surmount all the difficulties she faced and get an excellent education, and went on to become a successful journalist, so that while she tells us of her "white trash" background, she's able to describe it to us with intelligence and detachment and deliver a book that I'm almost ashamed to say was a pleasure to read (or in this case, listen to).
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LibraryThing member riofriotex
The author is the second of four children of an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother who can't seem to hold down steady jobs and are constantly moving the family (at least 11 homes by the time the author is four). Numerous incidences of child neglect bordering on abuse are recounted in the
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book, which is set in the 60's and 70's. Yet, the author (perhaps because she is writing from the viewpoint of herself as a child at the relevant age) shows no bitterness towards her flaky nonconformist parents. This makes the memoir refreshing when compared to others where the author's anger is apparent (Running with Scissors comes to mind).

It's also possible to view Walls' unconventional upbringing as the source of her strength, and her parents as simply creative, unconventional people with a sense of adventure who didn't believe in spoiling their children (in any way). That's probably the best thing about this book – there will be many different reactions, because the author has written objectively and left it up to the reader to pass judgment on her parents.

I highly recommend this book. It's generating some great discussion in the online book club. It's especially interesting to see the children's growing awareness, as they get older, that their family's adventures are not normal.
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LibraryThing member semckibbin
The book is Jeannette Walls’ remembrance of her childhood where she was at turns abused and neglected by her parents Rex and Rose Mary. I was filled with anger and disbelief at her parents and pity towards the author, although by the end of the book I felt an even more profound sadness for the
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author as an adult. More about that below.

A memoir seems to free the author from being precise and Walls takes full advantage of this. No dates, no maps, no confirmation of even the simplest claims like Rex being an Air Force pilot, and no pictures save the idealized wedding photo of Rex and Rose Mary. Oh! how much the book would have gained if we could have seen Rose Mary’s portraits of her kids.

The style of the book is unremarkable; although Walls has an annoying penchant for hyperbole, her favorite qualifier is always, as in “Everyone always turned and stared at Dad”. The vocabulary is unchallenging and the imagery never goes beyond cliche. At one point, even the author recognizes the banality of her own simile and tries to cover herself by admitting her giving Rex stitches was sewing meat.

The memoir is told in 5 parts, the first section occurs at some point in the late 80’s and describes the author’s embarrassed meeting with Rose Mary in New York City. The next two sections are the bulk of the memoir and are told in what appears to be chronological order and cover her early childhood from 1963-1970 in the Great American Desert and 1970-1978 in a sooty, dying coal town in Appalachia. Section 4 covers the period 1978-1987 or so in New York City as the author escapes Rex and Rose Mary only to have them follow her. The last section, as brief as Section 1, shoots past Section 1 in time and describes a family Thanksgiving gathering where the author reflects on the past covered in Section 2.

The story telling is merely the chronological chain of anecdotes; the root cause of each anecdote is either Rex’s alcoholism, Rose Mary’s childishness, or the kids being ill-equipped to fend for themselves. Sometimes the writing has a thrown together feel, I think of the anecdote of the cornered river rat where the author introduces the dog to us because she needs it to kill the rat by the end of the sentence. In another place the author needed to move into an apartment so out of the blue she introduces her boyfriend of several years, Eric, so she can move in with him. Eric is a lightly sketched plot-enabler, not a person; the author never describes her relationship with him or shares any adventures they had together. Although the author marries Eric, only his apartment is used to construct her self-image and thereby gets more attention than its owner.

I applaud how the author borrows a technique of Dickens which is to contrast the adult who acts like a child with real children who have to assume adult duties. And there is a splendid series of comic anecdotes in Appalachia, where each attempt to improve their lives fails. They pay the electric bill but are shocked by faulty wiring; patch the roof with tarpaper but it still leaks; dig the foundation for the glass castle then fill it with garbage; paint half the house but cant find a ladder to finish; buy a canned ham but it rots without refrigeration and breeds maggots; forage for food but poke weed itches and tomato cans explode; go to forage spilled coal but only collect half a bucket; buy an iguana but it freezes to death; wash clothes for the first time in months but they freeze stiff; find a diamond ring but Rose Mary takes it; and so on. I believe the author borrowed this literary technique from Wile E. Coyote.

So much for aesthetic value. Let's turn to the moral value of the book where I find the book fails just as the kids failed in their attempts to act as adults while still kids.

Proust wrote, The true paradises are the paradises we have lost. Walls’s past is not a paradise yet there is still a powerful compulsion by Walls to make it one. So in my mind she must modify Proust. She enlists Dylan Thomas in this effort, and if I interpret the book’s motto correctly, Wall’s believes it was Rex’s promise of a paradise, expressed most vividly by the metaphor of the Glass Castle, and not the actual world that he provided for her, that was the remembered paradise of her youth. Wall’s then runs together the promise with Rose Mary’s claim that there is something good in everyone and that good, no matter how trivial, has magical powers to redeem a person, no matter how evil. Even Hitler has a redeeming feature. Rose Mary’s juvenile philosophy allows the author to redeem her father because he made the promise. It’s a beautiful sentiment; and indicative of the mental gymnastics the author has to perform in order to make the case for her parents.

In contrast, here is another way to think about the book. The Glass Castle is the story of a little girl. She is neglected by her parents, and ignored by her siblings who are busy trying to survive themselves (and in any event they are ill-equipped to raise her). She has to rely on the handouts of neighbors to eat. She grows up unnoticed and unappreciated. She moves to New York City only to have her parents follow her there. She lives with her mom and wracked with drugs stabs her and is sent to a mental hospital upstate. None of her siblings stay in touch with her. Of course this sad story, without redemption or grace, is baby sister Maureen’s.

No blowhard talk by a violent and cruel alcoholic about a glass castle is going to make a paradise out of what happened to Maureen. The author survived; and lucky was the author. Walls could easily have been burned to death at age 3; or suffered from disease caused by malnutrition; or shot herself with Rex’s pistol. Maureen (and poor, forgotten Mary Charleen!) wasn’t so lucky and her life was destroyed by her awful parents. Rex’s claim that because of how the author turned out he must have done something right, is a misleading use of cause and effect. He didnt do anything right, his daughter achieved what she did only because she was lucky.

What whelms me with sadness is the author’s denial of her parent’s real role---she says she went to New York to escape Welch, not to escape her parents; she blames herself for Maureen’s fate, not her parents; Rex is remembered as an exciting father who is the subject of happy toasts after he passes and Maureen’s voice not being part of the toast is not mentioned by our author. If this was a novel, such an obfuscating or unreliable narrator would be understandable, but in a true story there is instructional value in having a clear eyed assessment of what happened. Maureen is a real person who has suffered and is suffering today and there needs to be some accountability for that. And I am saddened to see the author is still helping her parents evade accountability and I feel so sorry for her inability recognize her role in protecting them from realizing their cruelty and destructiveness.

To be fair, perhaps Rose Mary can escape censure because she has about as much sense as a squirrel; but we expect much more from Rex, who “everybody thought was a genius”. It’s unfortunate Jeannette Walls squandered whatever chance writing this book could have afforded her to heal herself. There is still time for Al-Anon.
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LibraryThing member melodyaw
The Glass Castle is a gripping story of Jeannette Walls’s astonishing childhood. With their parents unable to hold steady jobs, Walls and her siblings became accustomed to constantly running from bill collectors, living in an unending succession of filthy, unsafe homes, and never knowing from
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where or when their next meal would come.

Walls begins her unbelievable memoir by recounting an adulthood trip to a party in New York City’s Upper East Side when, glancing out her taxi’s window, she spots her mother rooting through the trash. Walls immediately panics and turns back home, worrying first on a professional level that someone will see the two of them together and then on a deeper level that her mother is cold and homeless in the New York winter.

Walls’s subsequent lunch meeting with her mother, Rose Mary, prompts Jeannette to ponder her parents’ voluntary lifestyle and the childhood that she had with such unconventional, erratic role models.

She digs into her history by relating her first memory: “I was on fire.” As a three-year-old, Walls had pulled a stool up to the range to make hot dogs for herself — a common event — and her dress caught the flames. She is rushed to the hospital, which, she comments with remnants of little-girl wonder, “was shiny and clean. . . . I wasn’t used to quiet and order, and I liked it.” Three-year-old Jeannette marvels at the abundance of food, and she admits, “I would have been happy staying in that hospital forever.”

But Walls’s stay in the hospital ends abruptly; though the medical staff insists that she is not finished healing, her father scoops her up in his arms and “checks out Rex Walls-style.” Simply put, he runs out of the hospital through the emergency exit for the waiting car, Jeannette still in his arms.

Jeannette’s earliest memories have several such events in common. Her parents call it “doing the skedaddle”: when they are out of rent money; when her mother gives birth to a younger sister; when her father is down on his luck and at the end of his bar tab; when creditors from a previous town appear. They simply pick up and leave, often in the middle of the night, bringing along only the possessions that will fit in whichever run-down car they are driving at the time.

The family never stays in one place for very long, until they move back to Welch, Rex’s hometown in West Virginia. Rex, always one partial to the bottle, begins to drink even more when he realizes that instead of resulting in the adventuresome life he craves, his reckless exploits have landed him in the same dead-end town he had sought to escape as a child.

However, even in the face of such gloom, Walls’s father is a dreamer. He had always dreamed of building a solar-powered “glass castle” for the family, even going so far as to draw up architectural plans. Jeannette and her brother, Brian, measured the ground near their house for a foundation, and after a month of hard digging, the ground was ready. However, the castle never gets off the ground. Because the family cannot afford to pay for trash collection, they begin dumping the trash into the hole. Though Rex promises it is a “temporary measure” until he can hire a truck to take it to the dump, he never does, even rats begin to appear in the home.

Fire and heat reappear as constant themes in Walls’s memories. On one of the few occasions that the family celebrates Christmas, her father becomes incensed with the Catholic teachings. After they are “escorted” from the church, Rex decides to light the family Christmas tree on fire, and he laughs as the family rushes to trample the flames on the living-room floor.

On another occasion, while living at a San Francisco hotel, Walls finds a box of matches and hides in the bathroom, lighting paper and cardboard and then flushing the flames. A few nights later, the family wakes to find the entire hotel on fire. Though there is no connection to her antics of a few days previous, she wonders if the fire is out to get her. Walls says, “I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the kind of knowledge that kept you on your toes.”

When Lori, Jeannette’s older sister, tries to light a fire in the woodstove of their uninsulated shack in Welch, the kerosene causes an explosion that singes her hair and burns her skin. Shortly thereafter, Walls tells of her fascination with her classmate’s house, which has something called a thermostat. Upon making this discovery, Walls remarks,

“I didn’t want to say anything to show how impressed I was, but for many nights afterward, I dreamed that we had a thermostat. . . . I dreamed that all we had to do to fill our house with that warm, clean furnace heat was to move a lever.”

Fire is symbolic of her relationship with her parents. While their love and warmth at times keep her cozy and satisfied, other times their explosive nature expands out of control and threatens Jeannette’s very life.

Lest her readers become thoroughly depressed with such obvious deprivation, Walls also illuminates her account with rays of optimism. One year when her parents’ funds are too low to afford Christmas gifts, her father takes each child aside to choose their own star — or, in Jeannette’s case, Venus — as his gift to them. Later, he tells them about outer space, discussing black holes, light-years, and the special qualities of their new celestial possessions.

Jeannette’s mother is exemplary at finding the good in the bad. “Everyone has something good about them,” Rosemary states. “You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.” Jeannette sarcastically counters by asking what Hitler’s redeeming quality was. “He loved dogs,” Rosemary responds immediately.

Though her story more often inspires pity and incredulity than joy and optimism, Jeannette Walls is a masterful storyteller who does not allow herself to dwell in the negativity of her past. Walls demonstrates throughout her narrative the toughness that she had to develop in order to survive, but at the same time she highlights the optimism shared by her family that was equally as important in her development and success in life.

The strength of Walls’s narrative lies in her ability to completely absorb herself in telling the story, without allowing herself time or space to inject judgment or analysis. When Jeannette is 3, she speaks with a charming simplicity; at 12, she exudes the ebullient tenacity of a middle-schooler; at 20, her unflinching optimism and clear drive for success speak for themselves. Readers are then absorbed in the listening, and oh, what an experience that is. More than just an incredible story, The Glass Castle showcases Jeannette Walls’s clear talent with a pen and her undeniable prowess as a storyteller.

Jeannette Walls currently resides in Culpeper, Virginia. She is also the author of Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip and Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Story.
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LibraryThing member katylit
An amazing autobiography of determinely unique, anti-establishment parents and the childhood of the author and her siblings. Found it captivating.
LibraryThing member mrstreme
Exploring her up-and-down childhood, Jeannette Wells found an even voice in her memoir, The Glass Castle. In this book, Wells documented life with her parents – mentally ill, chemically dependent but enormously smart people who “raised” four kids fugitive-style. Dad was a paranoid drunk who
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was suspicious of the system and dreamed of striking it rich. Mom was equally suspicious of the system and willingly followed the whims of her husband. Together, they failed to provide nourishment, medical attention or safe surroundings for their children. Somehow, the kids managed – even finding humor in it – and grew up to be stable adults. It’s a miracle, considering their parents’ style of parenting.

The first hundred pages of The Glass Castle were amusing. It felt a little bit like some off-the-rocker Griswald family vacation full of mishaps. As the memoir progressed and Wells presented more dimensions to her family, you were struck with the sadness, anger and negligence of it all. For some readers, it probably remained humorous, but for others (me included), it was disgusting. Reviewers have commented feeling sympathetic toward Jeannette’s parents. I would argue that they were smart enough to know what they were up against. They intentionally bucked the system because they could get away with it – and their kids paid for it along the way.

It’s hard to like a book when you feel contempt for some of the main characters. To be fair, Wells’ writing style was gripping and descriptive. She knew how to draw her reader in. I cared about what happened to her and her siblings, and I was relieved to learn that they were okay once grown. That’s indicative of good writing, and I would want to check out more books by Jeannette Wells for this reason.

However, The Glass Castle struck an unsteady chord with me as a parent. It’s almost a guide for what not to do. Perhaps I will save it for when my kids are older and don’t appreciate me. See, kids, how bad it could be?
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LibraryThing member dk_phoenix
When a memoir opens with a scene of the author's homeless mother rooting through the Dumpster, while the author sits in a taxi on her way to an upscale New York society event, you know the rest of the book is going to be one crazy ride.

Truth be told, while reading Walls' book, I kept asking myself,
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"how is it possible that these children survived to adulthood, and became well-adjusted, contributing members of society?!?" From memories of rooting through school trash cans for food (because the only food at home might be popcorn, week-old ham with maggots crawling around the edges, or nothing at all), to creating her own braces with a coat hanger and rubber bands, to her mother telling her that she was just 'imagining' the attempted sexual advances of her uncle, Walls weaves her narrative in such an evocative way that you literally feel like you're right there in the memory with her, living it alongside her each step of the way.

And there isn't a shred of self-pity to be found: Just a straightforward telling of the narrative, plain and simple.

The horrors the Walls children endured, and the incredible resourcefulness of Walls and her siblings is an incredible testament to the sheer will of the human spirit in dire conditions. You just can't make this kind of stuff up.
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LibraryThing member JMPowers
I found this book hard to put down. Each chapter delved deeper into the life of the author, and I had to keep reminding myself it is a true story. My interest was piqued from the first sentence and help fast through to the end. I have a new respect for this journalist, and love the way she depicted
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her life through the eyes of an innocent child, then again as an adult. This memoir is very well written. I highly recommended it.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
Toward the end of the book, someone turns to the author and says, "You West Virginia girls are one tough breed." I have to agree wholeheartedly. The subtitle of this book could easily be Endangering the Welfare of a Minor for Dummies.

Jeannette Walls' memoir is about growing up in abject poverty in
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an extremely dysfunctional family. Probably the most notable thing about it is the total lack of whining. Through a childhood with the town drunk for a father, one of the most selfish and foolhardy mothers on the planet, constant emotional abuse (and sometimes physical), she avoids self pity and simply tells her story with a clear determination that she wasn't going to fall into any of the traps life laid out for her. Though she never sugar-coats the events, the story is filled with the occasional flash of humor and a constant spirit of finding the adventure in whatever circumstances were dealt to her without ever seeming pollyannaish.

I'm a bit late to the table on this book, my natural aversion to over-hyped bestsellers kept it on the shelf through the period of mania, but I'm very glad I read it. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member olongbourn
No fault to find with the story-telling, author is a fine writer... Small Spoiler Alert: this nonfiction story tells of parents who should have never had off-spring (they were self-centered and hands-off in the raising of their children to an extreme -- the children raised themselves) and three of
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four somewhat successful children growing up with barely shelter above their heads, irregular/undependable meals provided and accidental education. The world at large does not need this story told. Those who should read this won't change their behavior because they won't recognized themselves in the story. The rest of us recognize that there has always been and will always be neglectful parents, many children of whom will succeed independently because they have the internal wherewithall. The other children will fail for the lack of guidance and parental teachings and so the world will continue to revolve as it has always done. Find a different book... this story won't add to your life or mind or spirit, unless reading of depraved parenting is what you seek.
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LibraryThing member msbaba
Why is The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls, so extraordinarily compelling? I’ve rarely read a book that was more of a page-turner. I’ve waited a few days after finishing it to let the message of the book sink in. I’ve also given time to analyzing how the work was crafted to achieve
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this result.

So I ask myself again: Why are so many people, from so many different walks of life, completely captivated by this memoir? Some of the reasons are obviously these: 1) it concerns young children in harms way, and we humans are instinctually motivated to protect them; 2) it tells us a never-ending stream of true-life stories that seem utterly unbelievable, yet we know the person relating them to us is the grown-up person who lived through them, so they must be true; 3) it makes us hope that, somewhere within the text, we will catch the author in some open fabrication that will unravel the possible hoax of it all; and 4) we are compelled to find out how the author was able to succeed in life despite all her early trauma, deprivation and abuse. Perhaps the answer is a mix of all of these, and more.

But there is another reason that has only rarely been suggested here within the now-80-plus reviews on LibraryThing, and the reviews and interviews with the author available elsewhere through the Internet, newspapers, magazines, and journals. I want to give this mere suggestion front-and-center focus.

The idea is this: what keeps us all utterly enthralled is the quiet voice of love, understanding, and forgiveness that permeates the whole memoir. The entire book is told in the first person, as if the writer were living that moment at that time. Thus, when we read about Jeannette as a five-year old, we hear the voice of five-year-old; when we read about Jeannette as a 12-year old, we hear the voice of a 12-year-old; etc. But what we don’t notice is that that young voice has been filtered and transformed by the mature, understanding, and forgiving mind of the grown-up, psychologically balanced, emotionally stable, and personally successful woman who Jeannette Walls has become. Children, no mater how much they are forced by circumstances to grow up quickly into responsible little adults, still do not have the maturity necessary to be nonjudgmental, fully objective, and ever-loving in the face of boldfaced parental abuse, unfairness, and injustice.

That is why I think we were all so utterly drawn into this book and could not put it down. We all long for unconditional love. We all long for our actions to be accepted and not judged by our loved ones. We all long to be who we are and to be loved despite our faults. If we are lucky enough to achieve enduring love in our lifetime, it most certainly comes only with maturity.
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LibraryThing member KEFeeney
Aside from the fact that I really detest Jeanette Walls' parents, and to a slight extent feel sorry for them, I enjoyed the forthright telling of her childhood spent struggling with occasional homelessness, abject poverty, and parental units permanently on the fritz. Sometimes unforgivable in their
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schemes to make money and to waste it, Rex and Rose Mary Walls are the consummate dreamers, to the detriment of their family. There is much more to this book than the tale of two damaged adults, it's also about the pure survival instinct that emerges in the children who ultimately find their salvation by helping each other get out of their parent's home and make it on their own.
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LibraryThing member ntempest
I tend to shy away from books that it seems everyone is reading, but I had read a number of intriguing reviews about this and so finally succumbed. I found it very affecting. Walls depicts her offbeat childhood with parents attempting to live off the grid--rarely working, moving in the middle of
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the night to avoid bill collectors, exhibiting signs of mental illness--and how she and her siblings survived as a unit despite the chaos and poverty of their lives. You can't help wondering as you read how these kids managed, even as she writes the words and tells the stories. It's a true survival story, and Walls tells it with candor and sensitivity that is admirable.
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LibraryThing member ddirmeyer
I haven't ever read a memoir as griping and well-written as this one by Walls. Most novels are not as compelling as her life story.
I was moved by her ability to relate a childhood that would have crippled most people both physically and certainly psychologically. She does this with care and grace
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and the book is better for that.
Having grown up myself around the Appalachian culture, Walls story is a very accurate portrayal of what one can find occurring every day in the nooks and crannies of the mountains. Walls should be proud that she was able to overcome such a harsh childhood.
I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member karieh
I realize that I read this memoir at the wrong time...a time when so many things purported to be true turn out to be either completely manufactured or at least embellished.

But the way these parents treated their children? Unbelievable. Starvation, child endangerment, near prostitution...all so that
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the "free spirited" parents didn't have to change their lifestyle to protect or support their children.

That being said - this is a compelling story of the amazing love children have for their parents. No matter how poorly they are treated or neglected - children will hold on to the hope that their parents will change and love them back just as fiercely.

I admire Walls immensely not only for her success in escaping the downward spiral of her parents lives - but for being able to forgive them for what was done to her.

She is a bigger person than I.
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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Amazing that an MSNBC correspondent grew up as she did, with an alcoholic father and seemingly bipolar mother; shifting from place to place, so poor that they had a bucket for a bathroom and foraged in trashcans for other kids' lunches; and that rather than embittering her this life energized her
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to lead a productive seemingly happy life and become a wonderful writer.
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LibraryThing member debs4jc
A shocking and candid look at Jeannette's life growing up with two very unconventional parents. At times her life was one of survival, as her parents forced their kids to fend for themselves while they tended to more important things, like art, inventing, or drinking. Jeannette's first memory is of
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an accident that happened when she was 3 years old and fixing hot dogs for herself. Her clothes caught on fire and she was burned badly. Yet there is still love and tenderness in this family, such as in the scene where for Christmas Jeannette's father takes each of them outside and lets them pick their own special star for a present. Jeanette and her siblings do make it and in fact her upbringing helps her have the strength to tackle life on her own. This memoir of an unusual childhood is thought-provoking and an addictive read--as you have to keep reading to the end to find out just how the children will survive.
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LibraryThing member Christine_Gail
As an adult child of an alcoholic I could relate to much of this book. Although my childhood was quite different from Jeannette’s I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had my mom chosen not to leave my father.

As far as memoirs go this book did not move me the way I
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thought it would. I was expecting it to elicit much more emotion from me than it actually did. The reason for this I believe is that the author herself remained semi-detached from the story she was telling. It felt more like a story being told by an outsider looking in over a personal account of a chaotic and challenging upbringing. Perhaps Ms. Walls felt the need to maintain an emotional distance from the story in order to tell it accurately and stay true to its facts.

The bond between Ms. Walls and her siblings was apparent throughout the book, and I could feel it growing stronger as they began to rely more and more on each other for survival as is often the case in dysfunctional homes.

Ms. Walls love for her parents was evident as well. She could have used this opportunity to trash them, and yet, she did not. From reading this book one gets the sense that she has made peace with her parents, forgiven them for their failures and has comes to terms with accepting them for the imperfect people that they were/are.

I think this book will be an eye-opener for those readers that were blessed enough to have been raised in supportive and stable homes. I would say it is worth reading for anyone that wants to gain a better understanding of the childhood and lifelong effects of growing up in an alcoholic home.
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LibraryThing member porchsitter55
A memoir of how a child, Jeannette, lived through a bizarre series of "adventures" with a set of mentally unbalanced, eccentric parents who merely went through life without a plan and without money. Jeannette and her sisters and brother survived this incredible journey with grit and gumption, and a
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will to survive no matter what.

The father had severe alcoholism and the mother sort of drifted through life, painting her artwork and not getting too worried about anything. Neither parent could hold a job for more than a month or so, leaving the family penniless and without food for weeks at a time.

The author, Jeannette, paints a picture of her incredible childhood with touches of humor, sharing the absurdity as well as the heartbreak of living day after day, uncertain of her next meal or her next home.

The father would decide one day that they were moving, pack up the car and off they would go, "skedaddling" to the next town and the next life, actually trying to outrun the bills and the trouble he'd left behind. Without a plan, this family would drive their used cars until they broke down and then they would seek a place they could reside until the next "skedaddle".

The mother seemed in full agreement with the father, she was always ready for another "adventure", no matter how disruptive it was to her children. The mom seemed to just float through life, and tried to instill in her kids that life could always be worse...although many times, it could not have been. Even though she was trained to be a teacher, she would only hold jobs long enough til she grew tired of it, then refused to go back.

The children all seemed to be more responsible than the parents and would try to motivate them to be more like the parents they should be. The parents continued to give excuses why they couldn't be tied down to jobs.

This was just a heartbreaking story, but with touches of humor interspersed in the writing. This author survived an incredible life and now is working for MSNBC. An amazing tale, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member nancnn2
Her story is at times funny, sad, horrifying, mortifying - read this and try not to be moved.
LibraryThing member Suzieqkc
Next to the word 'dysfunctional' in the dictionary there should be a picture of Jeannette Walls's parents. Author Jeannette Walls grew up in several towns and homes as a result of her parents' wandering lifestyle. Just when she and her siblings would adapt to their situation, their dad would pack
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their few belongings, put the kids in the car and leave their rented home in the middle of the night. This happened over and over. It was heartbreaking to read some of the situations that the parents put their children in. Their mother was happily along for each new adventure that came down the pike oblivious to the fact that she was uprooting her children. It's so good to read the outcome of the story and to see that human will to succeed is so powerful.
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LibraryThing member c_why
It really is hard to believe all this happened to one family. Not to mention that Jeanette Walls could remember with such detail. I'm pretty skeptical. Our book club has never be nearly so "vocal" as we were over this book -- ended up not speaking to one another on the drive home. One faction sided
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with the "creativity" of the parents, others were rather bamboozled by this take, but willing to partially accept it. I on the other hand was absolutely outraged that anyone could consider those parents anything but totally insane & way beyond unfit to be anywhere near children - they should have been behind bars. Are there no social workers in the USA?
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LibraryThing member Ibreak4books
Probably the worst childhood on record, which is worth something. After about 60 pages, though, I had to ask myself: is that all there is? The author doesn't make sense of anything, which is, after all, the purpose of an author.




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