BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.

My Thoughts:

The Glass Castle is a beautifully crafted memoir of a difficult childhood. I am reading it for the third time, as I have set it as Required Reading for students at my Cotswolds Writing retreat.


I ask my students to read and study it because The Glass Castle is such a powerful and thought-provoking story, and a brilliant example of episodic structure (which means a narrative based on inter-linked stories or events or vignettes, rather than a dramatic arc that leads to a climactic resolution).


Jeannette Walls grew up in an unconventional family. Her parents were determined not to live ordinary suburban lives. Her mother was a teacher who refused to teach, her father an inventor who never invented anything. Rose Mary spent her days writing and painting and encouraging her children to run wild … sorry, to be independent and resilient … while Rex got work when he could, though most of it was spent on booze. Brilliant, charismatic, unstable, and increasingly unreliable, he led his family from one small town to another, running when the rent was overdue and couldn't be paid, or when yet another job ended with him being fired. Jeannette adored him … but in time her love turned to hurt and disillusionment. Eventually she had to take her chance and escape, all the while knowing that she was abandoning her other brothers and sisters.

Written in 2005, The Glass Castle spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and was turned into a movie with Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson. It’s a masterclass in writing memoir.


Another great book choice is A Letter from Paris:


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Kate Forsyth
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