Book Review: The Glass Castle

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A Book Review by Linda Warwick

Author Jeannette Walls

If you grew up with an alcoholic parent and even better if you didn’t, this memoir is a must read –in one sitting – kind of book.

A dramatic opening paragraph finds Jeannette Walls, the author, all dressed up for the evening on her way to an event in New York City when she looks out the window of her taxi cab and notices a homeless woman scavenging through a garbage bin – it was her own mother.

Only three pages into the book, another dramatic story unfolds about the time when she was just three years old. While her mother was painting and singing in the other room, Jeannette was cooking hot dogs on the stove. Wearing a pink tutu dress that her grandmother had given to her dancing around like a little ballerina, her dress caught fire.  Jeannette was very badly burned and spent several weeks in the hospital until one day her dad appeared and checked her out, Rex Walls-style.

Through the eyes of a child, the author paints an exhilarating picture of her dysfunctional family’s rollercoaster ride across the United States as they do the ‘skedaddle’ sometimes in the middle of the night through California, Arizona and West Virginia. Sometimes moving at a moments notice and only allowed to take a few possessions. At one point they lived under the stars in the Mohave Dessert.

‘I told Lori how lucky we were to be sleeping out under the sky like Indians. “We could live like this forever,” I said. “I think we’re going to,” she said.’

Jeannette’s alcoholic father Rex had trouble holding down a job, which found them moving more than eleven times before she was four years old. He was a brilliant man with a wealth of knowledge, which he eagerly passed on to his favorite daughter Jeannette. One day a child welfare officer came to the door and wanted to know if her father had a job and Jeannette told him how her father is an entrepreneur who is developing technology to burn low-grade bituminous coal safely and efficiently.

Walls remembers going without food for days. While in school, she would scavenge garbage cans for leftovers after lunch. A scanty budget left them without electricity in the crude shack, which her father said, was only temporary. One winter, icicles had formed in their kitchen ceiling because the roof was not insulated and with no electricity, Walls describes her mom’s response: “All seasons have something to offer,” she said. “Cold weather is good for you. It kills the germs.”

Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary, was an idealistic artist and writer who suffered from depression. She taught her children to appreciate nature, art and literature; how to adapt to the situation at hand with a strong sense of spirit. Rosy Mary’s laissez-faire lifestyle found the children raising themselves as well as their mother. With an absentee father who didn’t come home for days on end, the children finally convinced their mother to take a job as a teacher. They also made sure she got out of bed each morning so she wouldn’t miss her ride to school. Many times Jeannette and her sister Lori had to help there mother mark student’s essays and assignments in the evenings so she wouldn’t get fired.

Despite the idiosyncrasies of her parents, Jeannette Walls cared deeply for her parents and is sympathetic to their struggles. You will appreciate her capacity to forgive, to persevere, to trust, and to plan for a better future, not only for herself, but also for all her siblings.

With plenty of far out stories to keep you turning the pages you won’t want to leave this one on the shelf.

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