BY ERIN HOESLY
“The Glass Castle” is Jeannette Walls’ moving memoir about her difficult and unconventional childhood. The novel opens with Walls living on Park Ave. in New York City, working as a prominent journalist. Within the first few pages Walls introduces us to her homeless mother, a woman who is content to dig through garbage and live on the street.
As the novel progresses Walls takes us back to her nomadic childhood. From her earliest memory of lighting her dress on fire and having her father bust her out of the hospital, we realize that the Walls family story does not follow the traditional American dream. The setting changes rapidly the first few chapters as Jeannette Walls’ parents move their children around to avoid bill collectors and real responsibility.
Moving from one town to another, living from paycheck to paycheck, Walls and her family struggle through hunger and poverty, while her parents keep an upbeat focus on the fun they’re having on life adventures. We see the parents through the Walls’ children’s young eyes, as people who create a fantasy world out of struggles, and who promise greatness and success.
Without a traditional education, Jeannette Walls and her brother and sisters learn about life through their own difficult experiences and their parents’ new-wave teachings. Her mother’s creativity and love of art bring color and vibrancy to the children’s life, and her father’s wisdom puts him on a pedestal in his daughter’s eyes.
But as Walls’ age progresses, her parents’ inadequacies become more apparent. Feelings of practicality replaced adventure, and admiration makes way for resentment. Walls learns that her parents are not the fascinating figures she looked up to as a child, but rather people with problems who can not get past their own selfishness. Walls and her siblings learn to fend for themselves, from making their own money to fighting their own battles. As the Walls children grow up they realize that separation from their parents is necessary for their own survival.
The story then focuses on heart wrenching betrayal and an inspiring struggle for independence, and not merely childhood adventures.
“The Glass Castle” is an admirable story of survival, family and strength. Walls’ memories are gripping and detailed, and her family is complex and vivid. Though life throws countless challenges at her, Walls never writes herself as the victim. Her memoir is not one of self-pity and woe, but a story that shows the strength that you have inside yourself and a love that is so strong in a family that it can never disappear.
Walls’ short chapter structure and effective passage of time makes “The Glass Castle” a novel that demands you keep turning its pages. It is a novel that you are sad to leave when you’ve read the final chapter, but whose characters and events haunt you long after you’ve closed the book.
To experience a powerful and moving literary experience, look at life through Jeannette Walls’ eyes by reading “The Glass Castle.”