The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

Jeannette Walls lives comfortably. She’s a married woman, a successful gossip reporter, and a strong individual. She knows what she wants out of life. And yet she has a secret.

Her parents live on the street.

Thus begins her powerful memoir of a childhood: The Glass Castle. Jeannette’s childhood is full of pain, but also love. Jeannette and her siblings rise to success despite their environment. Her story shows that love is almost enough to get by.

Jeannette’s first memory is when she is three years old: her dress is on fire as she cooks herself hot dogs. From that memory on, her family is constantly wandering, searching for comfort and safety together, a place where they can have a life. But despite their best intentions, Jeannette’s parents mess up. Her father cannot remain sober, and her mother cannot accept the responsibility for the four children she is expected to rear. The four Walls children raise themselves successfully, in dire poverty, despite the odds.

Jeannette’s childhood was full of neglect, hunger, poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and physical and sexual abuse. And yet she writes a memoir full of power. I don’t usually like memoirs, because I dislike the attitude of “pity me” the authors seem to expect of me. But Jeannette lacked a “woe is me” attitude in her memoir. She writes the facts and leaves it for us. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, and she doesn’t expect me to either.

“The Glass Castle” refers to the castle Jeannette’s father promises to build her when he makes his fortune. He loves her and wants to provide for the family. She trusts him. And yet, it is evident that he will never be able to achieve his dreams for his family: he lacks the ability to actually succeed in anything as he retreats to the comfort of alcohol.

I found The Glass Castle eye-opening. I was shocked to see how a family in dire poverty lived in the modern era. I was shocked to learn the attitudes of Jeannette’s own family about their situation. I was disgusted by her parent’s actions and decisions, and yet I was amazed as Jeannette continued to love them unconditionally. Her story was painful and beautiful at the same time.

In an interview in 2005, Jeannette was asked what she wanted to change about her childhood. Her response blew me away:

I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t wish that anything had been different, but I don’t want to relive it. I don’t regret that I went through this experience because I ended up at a place that I’m happy with, so however I got there is fine by me. However, you could not pay me enough money to go through all that again, and I wouldn’t raise a child that way myself either, obviously.

Interviews with Jeannette Walls and Reviews of The Glass Castle

If you reviewed The Glass Castle on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

I read The Glass Castle a few months ago, before I began blogging about reading. I’m writing this review now in honor of Blog Action Day 2008. Poverty is the theme this year. (I found out about it rather late; otherwise, I would have told you sooner to join in.)

What can you do to take action against poverty, today?

Donate to the United Nations World Food Programme.

Think about what you have eaten today. Oatmeal for breakfast? A sandwich for lunch? A bag of potato chips? I suspect that if you’re reading this blog, you aren’t starving to death. And when I think about poverty, I think about hunger. While the World Food Programme is not specifically fighting poverty, it is fighting hunger. I feel donations help those who are in great need.

Now, I’m not rolling in wealth these days, but I’m going to copy Maw Books’ wonderful idea of sponsoring via comments. I’ll donate 10 cents to World Food Programme for every (non-spam*) comment I receive on any post of Rebecca Reads today, October 15, 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. USA CDT for the rest of October. *”Non-spam” means a comment that relates to the post and doesn’t link to unrelated sites.

Alternatively, if you buy a book through my Amazon store anytime in October, I’ll donate all the proceeds I earn (which, I think, is 4%) to the World Food Programme. Every book that I review on Rebecca Reads (plus many more) is available at my Amazon store.

You could also fight poverty by finding another charity of your choice that is working to fight poverty and hunger. Let us know your preferred charity in the comments. There are so many out there.

Are you a book blog participating in Blog Action Day 2008? Leave a link in the comments and I’ll link to your post (as soon as I can). For all blogs (9,000+) participating thus far, click here.

Reviewed on October 15, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I loved The Glass Castle.  I think the family lived the way they did because Jeanette’s father was an alcoholic and her  mother was mentally ill.  I think the children were very lucky to come through that as well as they did.

  • I’m also participating in Blog Action Day and read the Glass Castle…those parents were so UNFIT and it’s a shame that they put those kids through hell the way that they did.

  • In general, I like memoires.  They’re the only nonfiction I can read without falling asleep.  But I haven’t encountered any victim-attitude ones, maybe that’s the difference.  Most of the ones I’ve read have been very focused, and about hope, survival, and triumph.  One of my favorites was Reading Lolita in Tehran.

  • Gary Baumgarten, thanks for linking! SmallWorld Reads, thanks for the link, I’ll add it. Kathy, you’re probably right about the mother being mentally ill. In one of the interviews, Jeannette says she thinks her mother was just 4 years old emotionally and socially–she just never grew up.

    Chain Reader, I really “enjoyed” it (“enjoyed” despite the horrific subject matter…)

    yasmin, yes unfit parents completely! But it’s amazing to me that Jeannette really doesn’t wish any of it away!

    Amanda, I love nonfiction! But not memoirs. So liking this was an exception in some way. I think I might own Reading Lolita in Tehran, so I may have to look in to that one.

  • This book blew my mind!  It was so frustrating listening (audiobook) to Jeanette try to talk to her mother about the land that she owned.  Her mother had the ability to do something that would have pulled them out of poverty and allowed them to lead a decent life-nothing fancy, just things like roofs that didn’t leak and indoor plumbing-yet it was never anything she ever even considered doing…gah!  So frustrating!  I, too, was thoroughly impressed with her ability to remain objective about her childhood and her parents’ decisions.  A lot of people would have been extremely bitter and used that as an excuse for why they were never able to make it in the world. 

    I posted about my organizations of choice for blog action day here

  • I have The Glass Castle sitting in a box under my bed and would love to read it before the end of the year.  I overheard a conversation of a man saying it was the best book he’d read all year, plus all the bloggers love this one.

    Awesome thing you are doing with Blog Action Day!

  • Natasha, I admit that I copied your thing about sponsoring via comments….and then I realized that I don’t get nearly as many comments as you do, so it just makes me look like a cheapskate. Oh well! Thanks for the great idea (i.e., donating to charity via a blog).

  • If you know any contact information about Jeannette Walls, we will really appreciate it if you send it to us to the e-mail: because we really want to know what happened to her after she wrote The Glass Castle.

    Thank You!!!!
    Alejandra and Juan

  • This was a required read in my school this year, and I loved every second of it. But in your review, it says that there was physical abuse. Um, the only thing I could think of being physical abuse is when Rex hits Jeanette with his belt, but that was just a punishment for talking back.

  • Hi Crystal, I haven’t read it for a year but I seemed to remember the grandma being rather abusive? I’ll have to reread it. Thanks for the clarification.

    Sounds like an intriguing book to read in school!

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