Now that I’m required to read books for a living, it’s tough to get a ton of reading done in my free time. This one, however, I whipped through in three days. So freaking good.
Jeannette Walls, a redhead kid with buck teeth, has only ever known a nomadic, dysfunctional life. She’s the daughter of an “artist” and an “entrepreneur.” AKA her mom is a certified teacher who doesn’t like working, so she spends her time waiting for her art to be discovered, and her dad is a guy with big ideas, no follow through and, boy, does he love to drink. Jeannette is smack dab between an older sister, Lori (the smart one), and younger siblings, Brian (the brave one) and Maureen (the baby). Sensitive, loyal, and strong, Jeannette is her father’s favorite.
The conditions they live in are horrifying; the children are perpetually hungry, dirty, ill-clothed, and unbelievably unsupervised. Her mother’s “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitude leaves Jeannette and her siblings fending for themselves at home and school. They forage for grubs in the woods and steal other children’s leftovers from the trash cans at school to survive. They learn to defend themselves against bullies tactically. They help one another fend off sexual predators – children and adult alike – of which there are a shocking number.
Yet, for much of the book, they seem relatively happy. No matter what, the Walls kids have each other. They love their mother despite her negligence, and stand in awe of their destined-for-greatness father, who, truthfully, is something of a genius when he’s not dead drunk. Each character has its flaws, the parents more than any, but they feel complete. We feel like we know these people by the last page. As much as we hate the parents, we can begin to forgive them for their illnesses; we can see that Rex is dependently alcoholic and Rose Mary is dealing with psychological issues.
I’m not going to lie: This is a super depressing book. My S.O. had to ask me to stop describing what was happening (“No, I don’t want to hear any more about creepy Grandma Erma!”) over those three days. But there’s something wonderful about it too. The resilience of the kids. The love in the family against all odds or reason. The struggle to survive. The successes they share – because that’s what these kids do, they share everything – in the face of adversity.
OK fine. I cried.
Easily 4 stars for this one.
Book: The Glass Castle
Author: Jeannette Walls
Type: Horrifying, real, honest, sad-happy memoir.
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Edited in March 2020 to use more sensitive terms regarding mental health.