The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls
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Buy *The Glass Castle: A Memoir* online

The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Jeannette Walls
288 pages
January 2006
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The Glass Castle is another entry in the long line of memoirs of horrendous childhoods that have cropped up over the last few years. But what’s refreshing is that Jeanette Walls doesn’t come across as a bitter whiner. She is quite forgiving of what she refers to as her parents' "non-conformity". The book grabs you immediately from the first sentence and never lets go.

“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. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading. Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash. It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name. I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.”
From here on, the story is one dysfunctional family rollercoaster ride. Jeanette tells her courageous tale of growing up with an alcoholic father who had grandiose, Ralph Kramdenesque schemes to find gold (and building her a glass castle, thus the title of the book) and her mother’s backwards methodology on almost every aspect of their lives. Everything - and I mean everything - could be twisted and contorted into something positive if seen through the distorted prism of Jeanette’s parents' eyes. Some parts of this will push you to the breaking point, making you want to shake some common sense into them. In other places, you can see that even though they were in desperate need of a psychiatric evaluation, they loved their kids.

But love is not enough. Just when things started to get semi-normal - dad getting a job or mom getting a job and the household having some sort of stability and food to eat - the family would be uprooted and take off to a new town or state (the skedaddle as her dad liked to put it). And through these misadventures of criss-crossing the country and popping up in new towns, Jeanette had to deal with the pedophilic tendencies of certain family members and homeless people, going hungry, not bathing, bullies, picking food out of the garbage, multiple fires, and on and on and on. Its absolutely heartbreaking at times, especially a particular twist concerning “Oz” the piggy bank. And though you could see it coming a mile away, fully expecting it to happen, when it does, it still feels like a kick to the gut.

But through all this strife, Jeannette eventually finds herself when she lands a spot working for the school newspaper. She and her sister hatch a plan and stick to it, eventually leading them out of the hardships and into more productive lives. Definitely one of those read-in-one-sitting type books. Just remember to call your parents, or even better yet, go see them and give them a big fat hug when you’re done.

© 2005 by Bobby Blades for

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