Glass Castle: A Memoir, The

Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms. For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.


Reviewed: 2019-05-18

wonderful insight into the very complex issue of homelessness


Reviewed: 2018-08-11

Important Life Lessons I have picked up from this story:

1) Appreciate the safe. secure, and stable home environment your parents provided you as a child.  Not every child had that.

2) Always appreciate the adventure.  It may not always be sunny, but one day you can look back and see where you have come from.

3) There are true monsters out there that will prey on people.  Be mindful and protect yourself.

4) Not everyone has the capacity or the inherit needs to be good parents.

5) Family is always important.


Reviewed: 2017-03-10

This is a remarkable story. Everyone should read it.

Reviewed: 2016-11-15

Although at times a very depressing and tragic story, Jeanette Walls gives readers a glimpse of what life as a child was like for her through this memoir. Walls realized at a very young age that her mother and father were not the best parents life had to offer. While the idea of family unity remained strong while the kids were young, as they grew older and more mature, the dynamics of the family shifted and became increasingly unstable due to a number of factors - her fathers alcoholism, her mothers inability to grasp reality, and their combined unemployment. It was Jeanette who would eventually serve as the catalyst that got all of her siblings out a small coal mining town in West Virginia and the family's dilapidated shack of a house. This is a story of survival, of hope, and of resiliancy. 

Reviewed: 2016-06-24
My mother, without preamble, plopped this on my table and said, "Read this." You should see this copy: The cover is creased and stained and permanently flips up as if someone curled it back behind the book (a habit I hate!), the pages are, well, not unblemished. But it has valid excuse. Apparently this book has been passed from person to person as people have read it and loved it and just NEEDED someone else to read it too. Unfortunately, the buck stops with me, because I didn't LOVE this book, although it was interesting, and even funny, at times.

I understand why my mother liked this book. She can identify with it, at least to a point. Her own mother is a "free-spirit", who, while not nearly as irresponsible as Jeannette's mother, was known to be flighty from time to time. She, thankfully, did not take matters to the length and extent that Jeannette's parents did, and while sharing their ideal for self-sufficiency, did not reduce her family to below-poverty levels to foster it.

I am not really a 'memoir person', and when I saw that this book was lumped in with Angela's Ashes, which I did not like AT ALL, I was seriously concerned. I have this tendency to prejudge memoirs and auto-biographies (and even sometimes biographies if the subject contributed to it) as being embellished and sensationalized and, perhaps not outright lies, but truth stretched to the point of no return. And so I tend to read such books with a skeptical eye, thinking, "Really? Is that your final answer on how it REALLY happened? OK... {Insert big, dramatic wink here.} If you say so, I believe you!"

I felt strongly that Angela's Ashes was fabricated and exaggerated, not to mention poorly written -- I mean, would it KILL the guy to use a pair of quotation marks once in a while? -- but as I read The Glass Castle, that feeling kind of went away. A little.

Maybe it was Jeannette's detached, unjudgemental way of telling the story. Maybe it was the simple, unaffected (*Ahem* Angela's Ashes) writing that made it resonate with a lot more honesty than I initially felt it would. She didn't write with "Oh, poor pitiful me" oozing out of every line. I can't say that everything in the book is 100% true, because as Jeannette's mom says, perception is everything, and the perception of a three year old girl being recalled and written by a thirty-something year old woman can't be exactly 100%. But I did not feel that she was outright lying, or fictionalizing her childhood and calling it a memoir.

There were some laugh out loud moments for me, which surprised me, and I think unarmed me a little. I think that these moments are what changed this from a fully-skeptical read, to a mostly-accepting read. The first moment is when Jeannette's mother is trying to sew clothes, and does a horrendous job of it, ending up with (paraphrase) "pillow case dresses with elephant trunks hanging off the sides and armholes in the middle of the backs"; the second was Jeannette's home-made braces, which morphed into something resembling a torture device: A bent wire coathanger with hooks to hold rubber bands in place. Said rubber bands to go completely around the head and pull buckteeth back where they belong. But I guess I would take desperate measures too if I was told that I should be thankful of my buckteeth as they might come in handy if I ever needed to eat an apple through a fence knothole.

This was an interesting book, and despite all the things that Jeannette's parents did for themselves without thought of their kids, they seem to have inexplicably done something right anyway and raised well-rounded, successful children.
Reviewed: 2015-11-28
Nature vs. nurture. It's a long-standing debate. I personally think nurture has a more to do with how you turn out as a person, but Jeannette Walls might have just proved me wrong.

This is the story of growing up with two parents who, to put it nicely, both have issues. My armchair psychiatrist degree says they both just might be mentally ill. Definitely co-dependent. And really bad parents. Jeannette and her siblings grow up roaming from place to place as her parents run from people of the real and imaginary sort. They are poor, and hungry, and really don't seem to realize how crazy their upbringing truly is. I can't believe no one stepped in and helped these kids, but I'm sure there are families right now who have it just as bad or worse and are under the radar like them.

This book made me mad. And sad. I realize it could have been worse for the Walls children. But what was there was bad enough. Now get off the computer, go hug a loved one, and be grateful for all that you have. It's a miracle Jeannette Walls grew up to make something of herself, so her nature won out over the terrible nurture she received. 4 stars for Jeannette and a virtual high five from me.
Reviewed: 2015-05-14
When I started The Glass Castle I couldn't put it down, it was nothing like I read before and it was something I could relate to (to an extent). I understand this is a memoir and not a novel where plots and characters can be changed, nor would I want that. I liked the family and I especially liked that Jeannette was able to channel how she felt when she was a kid, I do wish she would of focused more on feelings especially in her teen years rather than focus on events that were kinda already told earlier in the book. I felt most of part 3 was just part 2 but in a different stable city. I wish there was more about her fear of people finding out about her past and her new life when she grew up because without it all this book really is is a timeline of her life based on similar events that continue to repeat over and over again without a strong sense of what was going on in Jeanette's head other than we kinda get small snippets of what she thinks and how it has changed over time but it wasn't nearly enough.
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