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A+ Book Review: The Glass Castle: A Memoir

The incidents in this book might shock and horrify you.

Jeannette Walls chronicles her life in the Glass Castle from age three when her tutu caught on fire as she cooked hot dogs to the beginning of her second marriage.

A sane response, of course, is “Why is a three-year-old cooking anything over an open flame unsupervised?”

Most people would call this abuse.

The four children of Rose Mary and Rex Walls suffered starvation, being pimped, rock fights, and being shot by a vindictive boyfriend with a BB gun. The children took baths every few months and learned the power of positive thinking, how to read at age three, and how to shoot a pistol by about six. Water froze in their kitchen sink, the ceiling caved in and no one repaired it, and they had a plastic bucket in the kitchen that they emptied weekly when their outhouse no longer worked.

They moved often. When they couldn’t pay the rent, they moved. They left if someone got in trouble. Eventually, they retreated to Rex’s parents’ home. 

The mother, Rose Mary, could have worked. She hated teaching and refused to get out of bed to her first day of class when school started. She never taught again. She preferred reading, drawing and writing.

The Positive Spin

The parents fought and loved each other, protected from and threw their children into more abusive situations most people can imagine. They taught their children to be resourceful, creative, and self-sufficient. All four children read voraciously. At young ages, they suspected life could be better than it was at home.

But could they escape? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Pondering the Glass Castle

Normal lives make poor drama.

This story has all the drama of excellent fiction, with one bad thing after another happening to the protagonists – the children. However, this book is non-fiction. One reviewer said that you could understand the father, who was an alcoholic. You could definitely forgive him after meeting his mother in Welch, West Virginia.

One book review reported that it was harder to understand the mother than the father. For me, that was an understatement.

The Perspective of Time

When the shock of reading the book started to wear off, you remember that life was different even 25 years ago. What is shocking to young people today, may have been common practice in the past.

My childhood spanned the 1950s. Seatbelts were not invented. We had a mattress in our backseat over the bench seat that made a little playground for us. We bounced on it while my dad drove unless he got mad.

Parents spanked their children using belts, boards, whips and hands. School administrators did the same.

Outhouses were common in state parks and rural homes. There weren’t any washbasins nearby. My great-grandma poured boiling hot water into my cold bathwater while I sat in it. At age four I went to the basement with her to shovel coal into the furnace. We still used the chamber pot under her bed at night.

My husband’s aunt, as a child, took a bath every six months and lived in a house with dirt floors. When does the commonplace become obsolete?

What is Right?

Many questions challenged and strengthened my beliefs long after I finished reading The Glass Castle.

  • Can we hold practices in the past to the same standards as we have today?
  • Who decides what harms a child; the parent, the child, the state, the church, the economy?
  • Is a parent negligent who withholds necessities from their children when they have the power to provide them?

If you’ve read this book, how did it affect you?

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15 replies »

  1. I found the story interesting but I was disappointed with the writing. I didn’t recommend it to my book club because I knew that they would criticize the writing. When I was growing up I was cooking meals at the age of seven and babysitting my little sisters after school until my mom came home from work at the age of eight.

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  2. Hi, Thank you for doing this :). Here’s the link to two reviews. Not sure if you saw this one and wanted it or not:
    https://happymeerkatreviews.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/a-harrowing-yet-inspiring-life-story-the-belt-boy/
    Or this one which is a funny memoir https://happymeerkatreviews.wordpress.com/reviews/non-fiction/humour-comedy/do-not-wash-hands-in-plates-by-barb-taub/
    I have 3 others but maybe save them if you plan to do this again and again :).

    Like

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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