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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Some people are naturally born into easy lives. They are born into two-story houses with built-in fire places and circulating air conditioning and indoor plumbing. The washing machine is always rolling, the floors are polished, and there’s always money put aside for ballet practice and jewelry and second ear piercings and over-priced salons and sleek, expensive cars.
Jeannette Walls was not born into an easy life. Constantly hungry for a taste of recklessness and adventure, the Walls’ parents never knew how to call a place home. With a mother who believed and cared about herself more than her kids, and a father who’d leave for days at a time and come back viciously and dangerously intoxicated, Jeannette and her three siblings quickly learned to take care of themselves, as well as each other.
The family began their days roaming the desert in a mobile home, jumping from place to place as Rex Walls, Jeannette’s father, looked for “work.” (The money he earned mysteriously and quickly disappeared, no doubt to pay for his booze). Yet despite his drunken tendencies and criminal-leaning habits, Jeannette loved her father. He was the smartest man she’d ever met; he’d enthusiastically talk to her and her siblings about physics and geology and how to look at life through fearless eyes. And, more notably, he’d let her help him devise the blue prints for The Glass Castle, the luxurious house he swore he would build his family when he struck it rich by searching for gold along the dusty desert floor.
Jeannette narrates her childhood memories descriptively, taking the reader by the hand through a series of events, using her temporary homes (or, rather, one-room shacks) as checkpoints. These shelters housed constant struggles without food or proper clothing, stress caused by jobs being juggled between school hours at a very young age, and boiling arguments with her parents that never helped either party save the family from self-destruction.
Her mother focused on feeding herself and kept a closed mind about everything, excluding her art “career.” She’d tell her children that they were old enough to fend for themselves. “It’s about time I took care of myself for a change,” she’d say.
To make matters worse, Jeannette would angrily protest when her father came home after a long night at the bar. He’d shake his head drunkenly and slur, “You must be ashamed of your old man. Have I ever let you down?”
She’d have no choice but to apologize and mumble, “No, sir.”
Jeannette, for the better part of her years living with her parents, came home daily to a sagging, rotting porch barely attached to an abandoned shack in Welch, West Virginia, complete with a semi-caved-in roof, no electricity, and a makeshift cardboard bed to call her own.
But her situation didn’t stop her from following her dreams. She soon made up her mind that she was not going to end up like her parents. She was going to be somebody, to make something of her life.
So shortly after her older sister Lori moved out and headed toward New York City, she saved up money to leave as well. She knew she would leave everything and everyone behind: her destructive past, her unstable father, her neglectful mother, her few neighborhood friends, her brother Brian and her little sister Maureen. She was scared. It was all she’d ever known.
But, clearly, leaving Welch behind was worth it. Jeannette Walls is now a notable journalist; quite early in her career, Walls became a full-time reporter at a Brooklyn newspaper, The Phoenix. She wrote weekly columns for New York magazine, contributed heavily to MSNBC, and currently writes full time, having authored several award-winning novels, including this memoir.
Not everyone can live life within a Glass Castle. But Jeannette’s story is proof that success can sprout from the foundation of hardship, poverty, and decayed memories.
I was thoroughly inspired by this piece, and admire Walls so much for gathering the courage to tell her story, plain and true. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a story filled with perseverance, with confidence, and with a tendency to fiercely pull at the heart strings.