Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel

by Jeannette Walls

Hardcover, 2009

Call number

362.82 W



Scribner (2009), Edition: Fifth Printing, 288 pages


A true-life novel about Lily Casey Smith (the author's grandmother) who at age six helped her father break horses, at age fifteen left home to teach in a frontier town, and later as a wife and mother runs a vast ranch in Arizona where she survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy--but despite a life of hardscrabble drudgery still remains a woman of indomitable spirit.

Media reviews

The pert style of “Half Broke Horses” is much more repetitive and grating than the more spontaneous-sounding voice Ms. Walls used to describe her own life. But the author comes from a family that knew how to lure horses using grain, not rope. And she has inherited a version of that skill. So
Show More
she has managed to make her second book almost as inviting as her first, even though its upright heroine is never as startling as Ms. Walls’s parents were.
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
What a wonderful life! Lily Casey grew up in the Southwest during the early 1900s. She was raised on various hard-scrabble homesteads and being a fast learner, she quickly grasped ranching, breaking horses and basic farming. Her natural smarts and love of books, led her to a teaching career, which
Show More
included locking horns with the creepy head of a Polygamist sect. She also raced horses, played a mean hand of poker, dabbled in bootlegging, flew airplanes and drove a western taxi, which was a converted hearse. This is called a true-life novel and the author Jeanette Walls, who penned the acclaimed memoir The Glass Castle, based this story on her maternal grandmother. It’s crisply and vividly written. This brief dialogue captures Lily’s grit. She is taking a couple New York ladies to the Grand Canyon, in the “taxi”, when Lily rolls the car. No one is hurt but the ladies are understandably upset:
“Youse almost got us kilt!”
And Lily’s reply- “All that’s happened to you is that you’ve had the lace knocked off your panties. Instead of carrying on, you should be thanking me, because my driving skills just saved all your necks. You ride, you got to know how to fall, and you drive, you got to know how to crash.”
Show Less
LibraryThing member brenzi
I remember reading Jeannette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, teary-eyed at the life she and her siblings led at the hands of her alcoholic father and totally useless mother, fending for themselves because the parents who could provide for them chose not to. Walls new book, Half-Broke Horses,
Show More
described as a true-life novel, tells the story of Walls’ grandmother, a gritty, tenacious, unsentimental, harsh woman. There were no tears here just many thoughts of “Who would do that?” or “Who would let their child do that?”

We meet Lily Casey when she is ten years old and she and her brother and sister climb a tree to escape the suddenly raging flood waters, and hang on up there through the night until they are able to climb down and return home where their parents’ prayers have been answered by their safe return. Her mother tries to take the credit for their survival because she prayed all night but Lily will have none of it:

“The way I saw it, I was the one who’d saved us all, not Mom and not some guardian angel. No one was up in that cottonwood tree except the three of us. I started explaining how I’d gotten us to the cottonwood tree in time, figuring out how to switch places when our arms got tired and keeping Buster and Helen awake through the long night by quizzing them.”

And so begins the tale of Lily Casey’s life, filled with one dramatic rescue after another; one daring escapade only to be topped by the next one; a continual line of spineless characters, put in their place by the overbearing Lily. You soon begin to realize that, in her opinion, she’s good at anything and everything she tries. And try she does, because living in the southwest desert of the United States in the 1930’s and 40’s was a true pioneer experience. This is the West when the West was still rough: we follow Lily as she is allowed by her parents to take on responsibilities usually reserved for adults such as, breaking horses, bartering with a store owner over the price of eggs, gelding horses (yikes!), and other incidents that prepare her for what turns out to be her initiation into adulthood at the age of 15: she is hired as an itinerant teacher for a school 500 miles away and the only way to get there is on her horse. It takes four weeks, which Lily takes in stride since Dad supplies her with a pearl-handled six shooter.

From there the book goes on to explore Lily’s life as a young teacher, her brief time in Chicago, her marriage to Jim Smith and the birth of her children and her experiences as a mother. Towards the end of the book, her daughter Rosemary is highlighted as is the man she marries, Rex Walls. The author lets us know that Lily predicted the life that Rosemary ended up living which was brought to life in Jeannette Walls’ memoir. Through it all, Lily’s tenacity and strong-willed spirit shines through and although I really didn’t like this character much, I had to admire her grit, perseverance and fortitude. The author is just such a great storyteller that it is easy to ignore Lily’s less desirable characteristics and just be carried along by the narrative. Along the way you meet many, many other eccentric, quirky characters. Highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member tututhefirst
The jacket cover says this is "Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults." That was all it took to grab me. Jeanette Walls had a very colorful grandmother. She tells her grandma's story using the format of a memoir in grandma's voice, but admits that she has written it as fiction. The enchanting tale of Lily
Show More
Casey Smith is entirely believable whether it is fictionalized or not. Walls obviously draws on actual interaction with her grandmother, and incorporates family anecdotes to embellish the story. It is oral history at its best.

Lily Casey was an independent, intelligent, and tradition defying woman. Raised on a ranch during the depression, she was a child of poverty, desperation, violent weather, famine, and limited opportunities. By the age of six, she was helping her father break wild horses, and learning that the only real obstacles to her future were ones she allowed to go unchallenged. When she was fifteen, she left home, riding her horse by herself over 500 miles of wilderness and desert to take a teaching position in a small village (she herself hadn't even formally graduated from the 8th grade.) Later, she learned to fly a plane, she went off to live in the big city (Chicago) to make her fortune, but gave up that dream because she missed the West and returned to continue a series of teaching positions in various small towns. Eventually she completed college and got her teacher certification, but was never happy in 'big city' schools with all their bureacracy.

With her husband, "Big Jim" Smith, she helped manage a huge (160,000 acre) spread owned by an overseas corporation. She taught her two children and their numerous farmhands how to herd, brand, and slaughter cows, how to geld stallions, how to make do with whatever was available, and how to mend fences. Drawing on her memories of drought when she was a child, and learning from the example of the great Hoover dam which she had visited, she was able to convince her husband they needed to build a series of earthen dams throughout their ranch to guard against dry times.

Walls takes the story through her mother's early marriage to Rex Walls, and leaves us with a picture of an incredible woman - a true 'pistol packing mamma', a school marm extraordinaire, and a grandma every little girl would definitely enjoy.This was the pick of our book club this month, and a great one it was.

I listened to parts of it in audio--read by the author. It was the only negative part of my experience. Jeanette Walls' voice just didn't sit well with me, and her diction is not crisp enough to carry the story through. It would have been better done by a professional reader.
Show Less
LibraryThing member LiterateHousewife
Lily Casey is a firecracker of a girl. She is brave enough to keep her younger siblings safe during a flash flood, to face up to her parents' weaknesses, and to take off on her horse by herself at the age of 15 for a multi-state journey to Arizona in order to begin a teaching career. As a woman,
Show More
she knows what she wants and she knows what is right. She won't back away from either. She is flexible and won't let life and it's messy circumstances paralyze her. Most of all, Lily Casey has a way with half broke horses.

I read The Glass Castle in 2007. I absolutely loved it. It's the kind of memoir I find the most fulfilling to read. The author experienced a difficult childhood. Instead of being cynical and perpetually bruised, she finds her inner strength, takes responsibility for herself, and makes a great life for herself. So, when I heard that Jeannette Walls wrote a novel, I knew I had to read it. I wasn't sure what to think about the "true life novel" aspect, but I didn't let that stop me. It did make me stumble a bit over defining its genre. It is historical fiction as it takes place in the early 20th century. That part was easy. What was difficult is that I couldn't really just leave it at historical fiction. Half Broke Horses was written in the first person from the perspective of an actual woman, making it feel like a memoir. Walls calls it a "true life novel." I settled with Historical Fiction / Imagined Memoir.

As with The Glass Castle, I loved Walls' writing and her ability to bring the past to life. Although she only knew her grandmother as a young child, the voice she gave to Lily Casey was authentic and powerful. What touched me the most was the sense of place. I felt I grew to know the farmland of Texas and Arizona where Lily lived. I see how it shaped her. This novel is just as much a love letter to Walls' grandmother as it is to horses, farming, and the American West. It was interesting to read this along side of Mudbound. In Half Broke Horses, the love of the land was natural and life affirming whereas in Mudbound, it was destructive force. Half Broke Horses made me long for a good deep, clean breath taken in wide open spaces while Mudbound made me feel dirty. While I loved both Lily Casey and Laura McAllen as characters, I respected Lily more for the way that she took action when times got tough. I very much admired her moxie and spirit.

I loved Half Broke Horses. As, with any life, there wasn't consistent action over the course of the novel, it worked better for me as a pre-cursor to The Glass Castle than it did as a straight out novel. Knowing that Lily Casey was the author's maternal grandmother before I began, I read this book from the beginning more as a family history than a novel anyway. Anyone who has read and loved The Glass Castle would enjoy this. If you haven't read The Glass Castle and have wanted to, you could read them in either order. I don't think you could go wrong either way. If you like to read about strong women who make the most out of their lives, you will love Lily Casey as much as I did.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SugarCreekRanch
Half-broke Horses is a tremendously entertaining biography of the author’s grandmother. She was an amazing woman – confident and competent, ready to take on any challenge, full of life and full of opinions. I would’ve enjoyed meeting Lily.

This book likely takes more literary license than
Show More
Jeannette Walls’ previous book, The Glass Castle, as the author had to rely on relative’s stories and research rather than personally living the story. But perhaps it was just that literary license that made this a much more enjoyable read for me – the story flow was as smooth as you’d expect in a character-driven fiction piece.
Show Less
LibraryThing member danawl
Jeannette does it again. After the Glass Castle, what's the encore. This delightful story about her Grandmother's childhood and adult life in the southwest provides a slice of entertaining history.
LibraryThing member WeeziesBooks
Jeannette Walls new book "Half Broke Horses" is a wonderful and captivating hard to put down book and labeled a "A True-Life Novel." This is the story of Lily (who it is said is Lily Smith, Wall’s grandmother), who led a very young difficult life in the early 1900’s. As a child, Lily lived with
Show More
her Irish father who was a difficult man with a very strong temper and a short fuse. He had no tolerance for things he felt were stupid or meaningless. As Lily grew, she became a woman of courage and determination and proved herself thorough the many jobs she held including teacher, house keeper, pilot, and horse trainer; though she could not hold any job for very long. She had a failed marriage and daughter that easily got into trouble and she seemed to be living a life of heartbreak and strife. To say that she was a survivor is an understatement.

There were some favorite parts for me such as helping her father break wild horses at the age of six, and her experience teaching in the one room school house that she had to ride across the frontier on a pony at the age of fifteen to get to work. There were so many hardships that it is hard for me to truly imagine the difficulties she faced. This book does give a strong and wide lens picture of life for many at that time and place. It is well written and it as excellent as her previous book “The Glass Castle” which continues to be a favorite of mine. This is a book that should be read to help us all understand the lives of many of those who came before us and the trials they endured to give us the lives that we have today. An excellent read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member weaverladyllj
Most of Half Broke Horses is very well written. The author is very candid. She shows us her grandmother's uniqueness and doesn't whitewash her. I enjoyed learning about her grandmother's resourcefulness. The author has done a very good job with her theme using the imagery of half broke horses
Show More
throughout the book. She has an excellent beginning and ending for this book.

I enjoy books that I can learn a little bit of history in. I especially enjoy a book that takes me into the life and experiences of someone else. This book is filled with information and it seems to follow the history of the times except for the section about “Main Street.” This section is obviously about Colorado City (formerly known as Short Creek). It is filled with historical inaccuracies and would offend many people from there or people who are associated with those people. I don't mind someone writing something negative about Colorado City, but I don't like someone writing stuff that she obviously didn't get from her grandmother or her mother's memory.

During the time portrayed in this section, there were only two schools on the strip. The one in Bundyville which had a schoolhouse with a teacherage and the one in Short Creek, which didn't have a teacherage. The people of Bundyville did not live polygamy. Polygamy had been discontinued in the Mormon church by this time. The people of Short Creek still practiced polygamy and had been excommunicated from the Mormon church in 1935.

Mormons are not and were not SEWN INTO ceremonial garments. They can be put on and taken off as needed. This inaccuracy in the story belongs here though, as it was probably a prominent belief of outsiders at the time and adds to the authenticity of the story. The clothes probably were sewn out of flour sacks and feed sacks and the people were so poor that they drove wagons.

I draw the line at the discussion of a “Joy Book” (which did not exist) and an “Uncle” who told the people who to marry. Placement marriages did not come into being until the 1960's and the girls had a right to say “No,” even then. At the time of this story, people courted each other in Short Creek just like they did everywhere else. They didn't marry any younger there than anywhere else,either, until 2000, after Warren Jeffs had worked his way into power (just before his father's death). This part of the book is not only very inaccurate, but also seems forced. The story loses some of its fluidity here.

I feel that it is important for historical fiction to be as accurate as possible. When someone writes something that is way off base it betrays the reader's senses. I so thoroughly enjoyed the book before this part and after it. If it weren't for the blaring inaccuracies of this section, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

You may say that it doesn't matter what is written in this section because it is a “novel” and Short Creek isn't named, but it does matter. People aren't stupid. I would enjoy this book and recommend it if this section were rewritten with the blaring inaccuracies removed.

I lived in Colorado City for 14 years and I know about much of the good and bad that exists there. There is much good there. I am very interested in history and know much about the community.
Show Less
LibraryThing member theeccentriclady
I was so afraid I would be disapointed in this book. So often a second book just doesn't deliver but Jeannette does a wonderful job making her Grandmothers live jump off the page. The voice she writes in is very close to The Glass Catle and familiar. I enjoyed this book very much!
LibraryThing member Marlissa
I have the audible version, which includes an interview with the author, Jeanette Walls. She says that she decided it would be more honest to call "Half Broke Horses" a novel than a memoir, as she received the stories of her grandmother's life 3rd hand -- as stories told to her by her mother who
Show More
had heard them from *her* mother, rather than by direct interview. As a novel, I found a lot lacking in terms of structure and pacing. As a family memoir, it was both fascinating and enjoyable. Lily is from a generation that started life in another age -- an age without home electricity, plumbing, or the automobile. She lived through two world wars and a major depression, and faced a whole series of devastating personal challenges with intelligence, fearlessness, and hard work. She talked a lot of wisdom (and a bit of nonsense too). And I'll be hearing her voice in my ear to stop whining and get on with it whenever I need her! (like right now while I spend the next month without a working fridge waiting for the new one to arrive)
Show Less
LibraryThing member krobbie67
I loved this book. After having read "The Glass Castle," by this author, I was thrilled to delve into the history of how someone's life becomes what it does. What made her parents who they were? I suppose because I ponder the same question of my own. The book won't be what you expect. It won't make
Show More
you cry like her first one did me but it will make you laugh, and more importantly it will make you think. The title alone leaves me questioning, whether half broke horses are all that bad after all.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kayronald
I had to read this book to find out how more about the gene pool of the author's family. And I did. The story of Jeannette's grandmother as a headstrong and courageous young woman in the early 20th century makes us pampered women of today seem ridiculous. She encounters hardships and challenges
Show More
with aplomb and excitement. For me, she reminds me of the early pioneer women and the suffragettes who fought for the lives we live today. The story is compelling certainly. However, I am not sure the writing is as well honed as the writing of another favorite books of mine - Jeannette's The Glass Castle.
Show Less
LibraryThing member just_jordan
Half Broke Horses

by Jeannette Walls

Scribner Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4165-8628-9

I really have no idea why I even got this book in the first place, but I am certainly glad that I did because I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I love biographies, and I never really read westerns, but since I live in the
Show More
west, I decided what the heck? I don't think that I have ever read anything quite like this book. The author writes well, and makes the book seem to be an actual first person account of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith's life. Whenever she didn't have access to all of the details from what she remembered from hearing her grandmother's accounts of her own life as a small girl, or from her mother's recollections of her grandmother's life, she researched meticulously to make everything as historically accurate as possible, and then added real details from that time to flesh out the events that she knew had actually occurred in her grandmother's life. There are some events in her life that really amazed me, and I was astonished at how she handled some of these events on her own.

If you are interested in biographies, strong women, and the history of the west at the time that it was changing dramatically just before World War II and the time just after World War II when America was going through the changes associated with the birth and growth of the modern suburbs, you will love this book. I started reading it as soon as it arrived just to see what the book was about, and was unable to put it down. I read everything from the acknowledgments to the author's notes without even stopping. I definitely enjoyed reading this book, and would highly recommend it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Soniamarie
What a fun, delightful read! As you probably already know, the author wrote this "true life" novel about her very own grandmother, Lily Smith. It covers her life from the early 1900s to the 1950s. Her story takes readers to the wild Texas west, 1920s Chicago, and both the ranch life and city life
Show More
of Arizona. Lily plays many a role. Besides being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and eventually a grandmother, Lily at some time or another steps into the role of teacher, bus driver, horse racer, horse trainer, maid, gas pumper, rancher, lady pilot, and even a taxi driver. The novel, told from her point of view, tells about her parents, the land, the weather, her pregnant sister, job losses, foreclosures, suicide, and the trials of having a thirteen year old daughter that skinny dips with the ranch hands. And let's not forget her failed first marriage, a story of its own.

I had a favorite part or two I just have to mention so everybody can get the gist of this darn good yarn. I especially liked the part in which Lily is teaching in Arizona in a mostly Mormon one room school house and tries to show the young girls under her tuition that "there were other things they could do besides being brood mares dressed in feed sacks." That just goes to show, what kind of woman Lily was. I laughed with absolute glee when she aimed her gun at stalking Uncle Eli and said "you come round here again, you better be wearing your wonder underwear.."

This is truly a great book that shouldn't be missed. I recommend it to women everywhere that like to read about other strong women. As Lily would say, "you'll get the lace knocked off your panties!"
Show Less
LibraryThing member eileenmary
I liked this author's style of writing. very interesting life this women led
LibraryThing member LynnB
This is a biography masquerading as a novel. The author has reconstructed the life of her maternal grandmother, Lily, and tells the story in the first person.

Lily Casey Smith is an interesting woman -- strong-willed, resourceful and adventurous. Her life was one of overcoming personal and
Show More
financial set-backs on the beautiful but rugged land of Arizona.

As a biography, this book would have worked reasonably well. However, as a novel, I found it lacked depth in the way the story was told and in the development of any characters other than Lily herself.
Show Less
LibraryThing member KHusser
Jeannette Walls takes readers on an adventurous journey into what life was like growing up in the rugged Southwest in her account, Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel. The true life being that of her Grandmother, Lily Casey Smith’s, rich stories of survival, wit, and endurance during the early
Show More
20th Century on her family’s ranch and finally her own spread in Arizona. Walls explores, not only Lily’s childhood and adulthood, but also enlivens us with funny and fascinating stories of her mother, Rosemary Smith Walls. In the characters’ sharp dialogue and pithy chapters, the reader can actually feel what life on the “frontier” of young Arizona was like, and experience the “growing pains” of a state as well as a family. A quick read with many personal insights, about living in the early Southwest, Half Broke Horses will have you asking, “Did that really happen?”
Show Less
LibraryThing member evet
I loved this! Didn't care if it was fiction or a memoir, YA or adult or as the author calls it, a "true life novel:. Walls created a place, time and wonderful characters, didn't romanticize the past. I felt like Lily could walk into my house at any moment and I would know just what to say to her.
Show More
True grit and gumption, what a woman!
Show Less
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Not quite a sequel to Wall’s first book, “The Glass Castle,” this book tells a fictionalized story of Walls grandmother, Lily Casey. Set in the frontier west, Lily is a rough and tumble cow girl. She is happy breaking horses, running a ranch and ultimately rearing her children. A
Show More
strong-willed and determined woman, she learns to fly a plane and drive a car during a time where women stayed at home.

Well-written, the characters are engaging and believable. I found myself rooting for Lily during her adventures and celebrating her accomplishments. I highly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading Wall’s future writings.
Show Less
LibraryThing member repb
A well-written and fascinating account of a hard scrabble family struggling to survive in the first couple of decades of the 1900s. Loved the real life characters and their grit. Author seemed to have a hard time ending the story and conclusion seemed a little awkward and uncomfortable to me.
Show More
Overall very enjoyable.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bookwormygirl
Firstly I want to start by saying that I absolutely love and highly recommend Ms. Walls' The Glass Castle. I read this early last year and have loaned out my copy countless times - not to mention I even forced everyone at work to buy a copy for our book club, because yes, I was fascinated by this
Show More
book and Ms. Walls' tale of coming-of-age, the skedaddle, home-made braces and the scrapes, bumps and bruises she went through to get there.

With that said, I could not wait to get my hands on Half Broke Horses. In this book we go further in time and are now reading about Ms. Walls' maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. The story takes you through Lily's childhood in the early 20th century, all through the desert, living in ranches, teaching at one-room school houses, to the Great Depression and World War II.

Although I will admit to it not being as phenomenal as I found The Glass Castle to be, Half Broke Horses was still very entertaining. It's the type of story that grabs you and the next time you stop to look up you're done with the it...there was never a dull moment.

Lily Casey Smith was an amazing, courageous woman - I'm so glad that Ms. Walls was able to create such a beautiful tribute to her. She mentions at the end of the book that these are stories she remembers hearing from, or of her grandmother, while growing up. She was able to piece them together and fill-in (where needed) with her own ideas - thus the story is labeled fiction.

I absolutely loved how the ending tied in to what we already knew of the Ms. Walls and her eccentric family from The Glass Castle. This was just a fun, light read that I would recommend to anyone who's read The Glass Castle or is a fan of Jeannette Walls.
Show Less
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Jeannette Walls has written “a true life novel” based on her mother's mother, Lily Casey Smith. Written in the first person, it reads like a wonderful novel but is based on the life of Lily.

Starting with saving her siblings from a flash flood when she was ten, Lily is a hard-working,
Show More
hard-living woman who wants no sympathy from anyone, and expects no one to get any from her. She worked harder than most men on the ranches, she took flying lessons, taught in one-room school houses, and married a “crumb-bum” husband first time around, and a solid ex-Mormon the second time. She raised her children the best she knew how. Her daughter, Rosemary, was as headstrong as she was but not as practical, and the book helps better understand the author's mother in The Glass Castle, a memoir of her bizarre childhood.

This is a great read, both as a background to the memoir and as a stand-alone story of a remarkable woman. Photographs at the beginning of each section are a wonderful addition.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bbrrtt
I just finished Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses, the true life story of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. If you read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls you know the page turning, absorbing way that Jeannette can weave a story. Lily, Jeannette's grandmother, was a fascinating woman;
Show More
courageous, no-nonsense reminiscent of a true "swamp Yankee" for all you northerners. Lily isn't afraid to handle rowdy cowboys, wild horses, a crum-bum husband, or ranching in the harsh Arizona frontier. Lily reminds me a little of my own mother-n-law, brave and resourceful, strong and adventurous. Jeannette spares little in the life of her grandmother sharing her love of the wilderness, her talent for teaching, and her passion for flying. Lily has her share of hard times and loss but this is ultimately a story of one strong woman's life without apology. It's a great read and I hope Mrs. Walls plans to write more and soon!
Show Less
LibraryThing member frisbeesage
Half Broke Horses is Jeannette Walls interpretation of the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. She calls it a true-life novel as the story is told from the perspective of Lily herself and some of the details are intuited rather then factual. This adds to the story rather than detracting from
Show More
it as it contributes depth and fleshes out the story. Its a grand story of a woman who lived life large. Lily was a tough, smart, outspoken, and resourceful woman who lived through floods, tornadoes, marriage to a crumb-bum husband, and selling bootleg booze to support her family. She never apologized for who she was or for doing what she believed was right.
I immediately liked Lily Casey Smith and wanted to keep reading to see what would become of her. Her utter frankness was humorous and her ability to pull herself up by her bootstraps admirable. The western landscape is a major character with its droughts, floods, canyons, and plains. The writing is beautifully descriptive yet the conversation and people are authentically captured as well. Half Broke Horses is a well-written, entertaining, easy read!
Show Less
LibraryThing member nobooksnolife
After having been swept away by Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle, I couldn't avoid having high expectations for her new book, Half Broke Horses, so I was thrilled to receive it as an advance reading copy. I am happy to say it is a wonderful book, but it is very different in tone and voice from
Show More
The Glass Castle, so be prepared for a new, excellent, experience from this author.

Half Broke Horses is subtitled "A True-Life Novel" which put me on my guard, as I have issues with ambivalent writings that can't seem to commit fully to either the nonfiction or the fiction side of literary expression but rather weave and waffle in and out; however, Ms. Walls makes clear in the Author's Note at the end of the book (interesting choice, to put it at the end) that this book had started out "to be about my mother's childhood growing up on a cattle ranch in Arizona…but she kept insisting that her mother was the one who had led the truly interesting life and that the book should be about Lily."

Using anecdotes from family members and her own childhood recollections, the author fleshes out a voice and personality for her grandmother and chooses to put the book in the first person from her point of view. Therein lies the 'novel' part of the 'true-life' and accounts for the 'voice' of this book being so different from Glass Castle. At first, I felt this was a shortcoming, but very soon into the book I realized that the author was intentionally not letting the telling get in the way of the story.

The sweeping story of Lily Casey Smith takes us through both the rigors of making a living and the death-defying challenges of life in the American frontier in the early 20th century. From drought-plagued west Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the remote Arizona Grand Canyon, with an attempt at urban life in a rough and growing Chicago, Lily's life embodies a time when rugged individualism carried depth of meaning. Outstanding among a list of remarkable feats was a fifteen-year-old Lily riding her pony, alone, 500 miles to her first school teaching job.

In the second half of the book, Lily's little daughter Rosemary, the author's mother, grows up between the near total freedom of life on a ranch and the near-prison-like atmosphere of Catholic boarding schools for girls. Through Lily's eyes, we can see how this unique young daughter grew up to be the complicated mother in The Glass Castle. Though this link is important for those who read The Glass Castle, it is not essential to appreciating Half Broke Horses, which easily stands on its own as a story of the pioneering spirit of the American southwest.

My book club has already selected this title for reading later this year.

Highly recommended.
Show Less





1416586288 / 9781416586289
Page: 0.7473 seconds