27 February 2011

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Thoughts and Reflections
This book surprised me a little bit. Typically I'm not overly keen to read memoirs (I'm not entirely sure why...), but my book club had selected this one for March, leaving me little choice in the matter. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I was caught up in the book. I read the thing in every spare moment I had and couldn't wait to get back to it when I had been pulled away.

A theme that I appreciated is this book is that a child isn't necessarily completely subject to his or her environment. Rather, a child can grow up in a racist community and not become racist. A child growing up in an impoverished family doesn't have to continue in the cycle of poverty. Such was the case, so it seemed, with all the characters in this book. Despite the communities that in which they were raised, each was able to determine their own set of values, ambitions, and way of life. An incredible aspect of these particular kids is that, despite malnutrition, inconsistent education, and poverty, they were brilliant. Their parents instilled in them a hunger for knowledge and taught them well, at times even better than the rural American public school system could teach them.

The story of this family is wild and adventurous, heartbreaking and heart-warming. The alcoholism of the father was incredibly frustrating. He repeatedly put his family at risk in order to feed his habit and even put his daughters in danger in order to earn some extra cash. He stole money from his children and was a complete brute when drunk. They parents didn't provide for their children, nor did they advocate for them or protect them. The parents were unwilling, although able, to provide for their children, even the very basics, such as food. At the same time, the children had great adventures travelling around America. Their father, when sober, seemed an ideal father, full of fun and games, lessons and energy. Also, the parents were living the life they wanted. They wanted a rootless life with no strings or responsibilities, just a great adventure.

I was impressed by the children. They were resourceful and smart. They had this uncanny ability to survive and provide for themselves from a young age. They took care of each other. They sought out opportunities and a better life for themselves. They made their way in the world.

I really enjoyed this book. I don't actually have that many thoughts on it, however. I read it and enjoyed it. I like the characters and the ending. I felt angry at the father with his alcoholism, the mother with her lack of concern for her children, and both of them for failing to provide for their children. Other than that, I have little else to say. The novel isn't especially thought provoking, despite the hard times discussed in the novel.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend the novel as a good read.

Brief Synopsis
This is the story of Jeannette Walls and her siblings. The family travelled around America, moving from place to place, never really setting down roots, and living in a variety of conditions. Poverty was a consistent element of their upbringing with an alcoholic father who only managed to keep work periodically and an artist mother, who, though trained as a teacher, hated teaching and refused to do so unless the family was in dire straights. Eventually, the children manage to move themselves to New York, obtain independence and develop their own lives. Their parents followed their children to New York and continued living a rootless and homeless life.

About the Author:
Jeannette Walls was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1960. She was one of four children. Her family lived a rootless life, moving from Arizona to California, to Nevada, to West Virginia. Eventually, Jeannette moved to New York at the age of 17. She went to Barnard College, graduating from her undergraduate in 1984. She is a journalist by profession, having worked for New York magazine, Esquire, and USA Today. She has also appeared on The Today Show, CNN, Primetime, and The Colbert Report. Her first book was published in 2000 and The Glass Castle was published in 2005. The book received the Christopher Award and the American Library Association's Alex Aware in 2006. It was also a New York Times best seller. She has recently published her first fiction novel, Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel. Jeannette currently lives in Virginia with her second husband, John Taylor.

Things I Liked about this Novel:
1. The resilience of the children. I like hearing stories of successful kids from tough backgrounds.
2. The siblings. They were unique kids and proved to be intelligent and capable adults, despite a difficult upbringing. I also liked that they stuck together and worked together through it all.

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