Several of my students had read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and hearing them talk about it made me curious. They were flabbergasted at the life the author led. Then, for my book club, the pick for March was none other than The Glass Castle. This is a memoir that takes the reader from Ms. Walls’s childhood up through her early adult years. It’s full of crazy adventures, selfish parents, and overcoming the odds.
Sometimes what keeps me from liking nonfiction especially autobiographies and biographies is that I can’t relate to the subject of the book. Not to downplay Ms. Walls’s childhood or dramatize my own, but there were some shocking similarities. She moved around the Southwest and even spent a stint in the Bay Area, never staying longer than a few years in each location. Every time her parents would pull up stakes they would call it, “going on an adventure.” Mind did the same. As kids this worked for my brother and I. We moved between Washington, California, and Nevada so like Ms. Walls we saw a lot of the American West. But you reach a certain age and you don’t want to go on new adventures; you want stability.
Luckily for me my parents realized they needed to stick it out a let my brother and I grow up in one place. Sadly for Ms. Walls, this was a hell hole called Welch, West Virginia. And while my parents were just looking for adventure, her parents were usually driven out of town due to their lack of taking responsibility and finding excuses for being lazy.
That’s the part of the memoir that is hard to read. As a child, Ms. Walls sees them as bohemian full of joie de vivre. But as she gets older she realizes her parents are out to find their own happiness and everyone else has to fight for themselves. They basically starve and live in squalid conditions because her father is a lush, gambler, and con man while her mom sits on million dollar properties because she doesn’t want to sell, it’s against her family’s code. For me it was hard not to get angry and frustrated at the way the parents were so wrapped up in their own lives that they basically let their children suffer terrible lives.
The redeeming factor is that the kids are tenacious, you’d have to be in this family. And most of them make a good name for themselves by moving away and distancing themselves from their parents destructive behavior.
I highly recommend this book because it shows us that our parents and how we are raised don’t always determine our futures. Yes we will always be tied to our families but their downfalls don’t have to be ours.