The Glass Castle: Book Review

For my 100th post, I’d like to share an extraordinary personal narrative by writer Jeannette Walls.

The opening of the book grabbed me right away as I was browsing in a bookstore. The author, a successful journalist and writer, was in a taxi, all dressed up for an evening event in New York City. As she glanced out the window, she saw a homeless woman scavenging a garbage bin. A closer look made her realize that was her own mother.

That is one dramatic opening of a book. Knowing that it is the telling of a real-life story intrigued me all the more.

Since its publication in 2005, the award-winning childhood memoir of Jeannette Walls has garnered high acclaims and been on the New York Times Best-Seller List for 100 weeks.

Growing up nomadic is a succinct description of Walls’ childhood. At age four, she had already moved eleven times. Upon the direction of her eccentric father and idealistic mother, and often to escape debts or consequences of misdeeds, the four Walls children were herded across the United States from Arizona to California, across mining towns and even living out open in the Mojave Desert, moving on a whim and often given just minutes to pack up whatever meager possessions they had.

Afflicted with alcoholism, dad Rex had trouble holding down a job. But he was a man with a brilliant mind and a wealth of knowledge which he readily passed to his favorite daughter Jeannette. She learned from him science and engineering, mathematics and history. The glass castle is his promise to her, assuring her one day he would strike gold with the Prospector he had invented, and build the family a glass castle they could all live in. The glass castle remained a glimpse of hope, yet sadly proven to be one illusive dream.

Mom Rose Mary was an idealistic artist and writer. Besides teaching her children to appreciate nature, art and literature, she had taught them adaptability and instilled in them the spirit of resilience. Once driving through the Mojave Desert, they saw an ancient Joshua tree. Growing through the wind swept years, the tree was permanently bent and yet was still firmly rooted. Later, Walls found a sapling growing not far from the old tree and wanted to dig it up and replant it near their home:

I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight.

Mom frowned at me. ‘You’d be destroying what makes it special,’ she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.

This book could well be named The Joshua Tree.

Rex’s alcoholism left the family in dire poverty. In this candid and personal account, Walls remembers that often she had to go without food for days. While in school, she would scavenge garbage cans for leftovers after lunch. Often they would have no electricity in the makeshift shack they called home, and took a shower once a week.

Mom was plagued by depression and often lived in a world of her own ideals. Her laissez-faire style of child-rearing often left her kids to fend and provide for themselves. Even if she found a job as a school teacher, she would soon grow tired of it and wouldn’t get up in the morning. The kids would have to drag her up, usually in vain.

I’m surprised the term “Dysfunctional” never occurred in my mind as I read the book. The Walls children were tenacious, resourceful, bold and confident. They were avid readers and did well in school.  What more, they were devoted to each other and loyal to the family. From an early age, they had to learn to handle an alcoholic father, a moody and depressed mother, and mediate their occasional fights and conflicts. The kids had to parent their own misfit mother and father. The Walls might be financially crippled, they were able to maintain strong relationships and an exuberant zest for life.

Walls’ account is candid and personal, poignant with cutting humor. One time in winter, when icicles were formed in their kitchen ceiling because the roof was not insulated and there was no electricity in their home, Walls describes her mom’s response:

All seasons have something to offer,” she said. “Cold weather is good for you. It kills the germs.

How we view the Walls parents of course depends solely on how their daughter presents them in her memoir. And this is precisely my point. Jeannette Walls has painted a loving picture of her parents depsite their failings. She is sympathetic to their struggles with their own demons. Through out the book, I am touched by her capacity to forgive, to persevere, to hope, and to plan for a better future, not only for herself, but for all her siblings.

The last chapters of the book detail how the author and her siblings pursued a new beginning by establishing an independent life in New York City, while still as teenagers. The story of resilience moved on to another phase. Readers are gratified to see a rewarding end to Walls’ years of perseverance.

Film rights have been optioned for the book.  If it is ever turned into a movie, from a visual sense, it is easy to illustrate the hilarious and sensational parts. However, my sincere hope is that the film will keep the integrity and poignancy of the memoir. Often, it is not what has happened that is worth telling, but how the narrator sees what has happened that makes the storytelling moving and memorable. In this case, both the what and the how are extraordinary and uplifting.

The following is a video clip of Jeannette Walls and her mother talking about The Glass Castle.

~ ~ ~½ Ripples

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, published by Scribner, NY. 2005. 288 pages.

NOTE: Here is the latest (April 23, 2012) regarding the film adaptation of the book. Lionsgate has bought the rights and Jennifer Lawrence is in talk for the lead. CLICK HERE to read more.

FOR A LIST OF UPCOMING BOOKS INTO FILMS, CLICK HERE.

***

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

30 thoughts on “The Glass Castle: Book Review”

  1. I absolutely adored this book. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it too!

    And I had no idea there was a movie in the works. I’m not sure what I think about that.

    alison: I just hope the script writer would honor the spirit of the book. I know, usually film adaptations tend to disappoint… well let’s hope this one will not. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.

    Arti

    Like

  2. Sounds remarkable. I’m really interested in memoir as a genre. It seems that it’s hard to do one well, especially if there is a pretty dysfunctional family in the writer’s background. Sometimes so maudlin or so bitter it’s hard to read. But this one sounds like it strikes the balance between honesty and palatability.

    writinggb: Don’t miss this excellent memoir. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. .

    Arti

    Like

  3. Arti,

    I’ve tried and tried to remember the source of a story that came to mind after reading your review, but I can’t. All I remember is that an older child was speaking of his seriously disturbed mother.
    She beat the children, and someone was asking him about it. He said, “When Mother hears voices in her head, she beats us with a stick. But then she stops.”

    As I recall, the narrator or author recounting the story was making the point that the children’s understanding and acceptance of their mother – and even her behavior – was grounded in a larger, loving relationship which allowed them to survive the situation esentially unscathed. It sounds as though there are some remarkable parallels with The Glass Castle.

    Congratulations again, for your 100th post. That’s a whole lot of reading, writing and thinking! I just went over and peeked and discovered I’ve posted thirty-three times – it hardly seems possible!

    I’m looking forward to your next 100, that’s for sure!

    Linda

    Linda: Thanks for your well wishes. Let’s hope these clattering wheels can continue on journeying towards the next milestone, whatever and wherever it is.

    Regarding The Glass Castle, as I mentioned in my post, the word “dysfunctional” never entered my mind as I read the book. The Walls parents were loving parents in their own ways, teaching their kids what “normal” parents couldn’t and wouldn’t. They were never abusive, but maybe the children were deprived of basic physical needs, like food and shelter. The line is so hard to draw and the definition of good parenting certainly is blurred upon reading this book. Anyway, I’m most impressed with the author’s resilience and forgiveness, and I look forward to her future writing.

    Thanks for leaving your comment.

    Arti

    Like

  4. This is a great review. I really enjoyed this book and was amazed at her life. I never imagined that people lived this way. I also wasn’t aware of the movie… I hope, like you said, they’re able to stay true to the spirit of the book.

    Great site!

    I don’t have too much info about the movie either, but know that it’s one of the projects under Paramount. Hope they’ll do it right. Thanks for stopping by.

    Arti

    Like

  5. Way to go Arti – congratulations to your 100th Post!!!

    Two thumbs up for The Glass Castle, what a powerful childhood memoir! Most of the copies were sold out in the Sydney book stores, I ended up ordering it, waited for 3 weeks.

    All your book lovers out there ~ if you haven’t read The Glass Castle, be sure to rush out & get a copy now.

    A Must Read ~~~~ripples I think.

    Thanks for including the Jeannette Walls interview. She and her mother are exactly what I have in mind. Boy, Mrs. Walls sure can paint!

    Keep up the good work Arti, I await more book review.

    Thank you…..you’re great!

    Molly Mavis: Thanks for your very kind words. Often it’s encouragement such as yours here that spurs me to continue churning out new posts in the midst of dry spells.

    Arti

    Like

  6. This sounds like another one I’ll really enjoy. Thanks for your post! 🙂

    Yes, it’s one amazing story that shouldn’t be missed. Thanks for stopping by!

    Arti

    Like

  7. My 11 year old wants to read The Glass Castle. Is it appropriate for an 11 year old girl?

    Paul: That depends on the maturity of your 11 year-old and her experience as a reader. Overall the book is poignant and inspiring, and I know it’s on many high school reading lists. My suggestion for you is to read with your daughter together. I’m sure it would be an enjoyable learning and bonding experience.

    Arti

    Like

  8. I also thought it was a wonderful book, providing insight into a world about which most of us are, thankfully, unaware.

    I would hesitate to give the book to an 11 year old, since there are several sections relating to sexual abuse, including the father almost prostituting his daughter.

    It seems to me that the content is not appropriate for children under high school age.

    Hi, thanks for your opinion and input.

    Arti

    Like

  9. im one of those hopeless kind of people who have difficulties to see the anythings other then the obvious picture. i read this book a while ago, but had quite a few questions on it. thank you for subconsciously answering a few of them for me.

    I’m glad my review is of help to you. Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment.

    Arti

    Like

  10. I personally find alot of the things she says to be highly unbelivevable and believe that this movie would bomb in the box offices because it is just another cheesy efying the odds book with little real information or history.

    You never know… fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

    Arti

    Like

  11. I just finished reading this book and was so amazed by this family, in all its good and flaws. I was wondering why Shalunda (pp) found this story “highly unbelievable”. I would love to hear more on her opinion. This story was beautiful to me. Sad too, especially for Maureen, who’s ending wasn’t as happy. But, despite the problems this family had, Maureen was the one who *wasn’t* part of the family unit as much. Could this be why she wasn’t as resiliant?

    I’ve appreciated JW’s attitude: accept things as they are, offer help when needed, move on if it’s not received. I think that’s true with their relationship with Maureen. Sometimes it’s not for us to find out the causes of behavior but just to love regardless… Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.

    Arti

    Like

  12. This book is a very interesting read that although was a little far fetched, captured my attention until the very end.
    As many other readers of the novel have said, the story takes many unbelievable twists and tuns that make the reader question how this could be a memoir. I personally don’t think that is the point whatsoever. Maybe every little detail was correct and the author told the story perfectly or maybe the whole thing was just made up; no one will ever know except for Jeannette. Her story though shows a new outlook on life that is the most unique perspective I have ever read about. Her and some of her siblings prove that coming from a broken home, you can get out of that cycle or you can take the easy way out like Maureen and in a way follow in your parents footsteps.

    Aubrey,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on Ripple Effects. You have brought out an important point and that’s life is full of choices as to how we live. And that the consequences can affect our next generation. You’re welcome to read my other reviews and share your view. Again, thanks for stopping by.

    Arti

    Like

  13. This book was very interesting and I can’t wait until the movie comes out.

    I don’t know when that will be… but let’s hope it’s good.

    Arti

    Like

  14. i absolutely loved this book! i felt so many different emotions while reading it. truly touching.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Arti

    Like

  15. i am actually reading the Glass Castle right now. it is on my high school reading list. i am really enjoying it. you are very right about jeannette, her loving care for her siblings, and her appreciation for her parents’ teachings are astonishing.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment!

    Arti

    Like

  16. I picked up this book the other day (finally!). I didn’t read the cover flap or anything, just bought it, remembering that I’d added it to my must-read list after reading your review. I’m looking forward to finally reading this!

    Shari,

    I’d like to know what you think of it after your reading. Enjoy!

    Arti

    Like

  17. I finished The Glass Castle about 2 weeks ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it yet. What a powerful book. So sad to think some children have to grow up like this.

    kadybug,

    The amazing thing is JW’s view is not a sad one. It just makes it all the more moving. Thanks for your comment!

    Arti

    Like

  18. I really appreciate this review; I love The Glass Castle and am currently writing a 4,000 word paper about it for the International Baccalaureate program. Right now I’m at 3,350 words (getting tired!) so I needed a reminder of why I am passionate about the characters in this wonderful autobiography.
    I also love your comment that the book could very well be named ‘The Joshua Tree’. I completely agree; the Joshua Tree quote tied up the whole story for me.
    Thanks for a great review of a great memoir!

    .
    Hali,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you find my review helpful. The Glass Castle is a fascinating and inspiring memoir. Creating a paper on it for your IB project sounds meaningful. All the best!

    Arti

    Like

  19. Everyone comes from a dysfunctional family, just simply different in each instance. This book is a true jewel. I would read this again as well as Half Broke Horses. I am wondering why they were written the way they were. Doesnt matter I guess as they are both excellent.
    .
    holly,

    You have a point there … no family is perfect … but maybe some are more functional than others? 😉 I’ve enjoyed Half Broke Horses too, but I must admit, I appreciate TGC in a much deeper way. Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment!

    Arti

    Like

  20. I really enjoyed the book and I couldn’t believe it was true! I could easily put myself in each setting and had an array of different emotions. To me, that is always a sign I just read a great book. It was so neat to actually be able to see Rose Mary’s paintings in the above clip. I was always curious about her art and didn’t know what to expect. She definitely has a talent and something to be very proud of. I appreciate Jeanette’s acceptance of her family, they stayed together and endured so much and I always find that a beautiful thing.

    .
    Kristina,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thought.

    Arti

    Like

  21. I really enjoyed your book review of The Glass Castle. I am writing a critique for my class and I like some of your approaches. I was wondering if I could get your last name to use your review as a credible source. Please let me know ASAP. Thanks and Best, Niki

    .
    Niki,

    Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. I’ll reply you through email.

    Arti

    Like

    1. this book really inspired me, it shows you how others lived and it really opened my eyes to many different things! I hope they come out with a movie!!

      .
      Welcome Haley and thanks for leaving your comment!

      Arti

      Like

  22. Hey there Arti.

    Nice blog post. Just read the book for school. I enjoyed it, more so after finishing it and looking back at the characters.

    It’s interesting to see how Maureen, who was always dependent on others was not as successful as her siblings in New York. It almost justifies Jeannette’s parents’ actions.

    Also, another interesting bit is that Rex, although a strict atheist, commonly uses “Religious” exclamations. Small, but interesting nonetheless.

    Glad I found your post! Thanks!

    .
    Ari,

    Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects, reading and responding to this post. It has been a while since I read this book and posted my review. I’m still getting comments, so glad to know it has helped a lot of students with their work. Which level of school are you in now? Just curious to know what level of syllabus is The Glass Castle.

    Again, thanks for sharing your opinion about the book. You’re welcome to browse other posts. Your comments are most welcome.

    Arti

    Like

  23. I chose this book for my english project, and at first I wasn’t very excited to read it. About half way through the book I had very negative opinions about the Walls family, then I realized, everyone is human, we have our moments when we aren’t so great, but the we have our moments when we can be wonderful. Although I don’t agree with Rex and Rose Mary’s parenting skills I do believe that their children would not be where they are today without the background and knowledge they have.

    Like

    1. Kelsie,

      I’m glad you’d chosen this book for your English project and that you’d enjoyed it after all. Yes, often we don’t agree with the characters in the book, but then we’re like observers, viewing the ordinary and the extraordinary of life. Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects and leaving your comment. Hope to hear from you again! 😉

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s