Have you ever come across a story where there’s just no way someone could make it up? The Glass Castle is one of those stories. (some spoilers ahead)
The Glass Castle has been on my reading list for about a year. After a good friend said it was one of her favorite books and had a big impact on her life, I knew it was worthy of adding to my Goodreads list. I started the book about a week ago and finished in a matter of days, unable to tear myself away from the unbelievable but true memoir of Jeanette Walls.
The book follows the WallS family and their hippie, nomadic, and free-spirited lifestyle. Their family is rarely in one place for too long, constantly moving around from one rural town to the next. Jeanette, the storyteller, is the second child of four. Her mother is an artist who spends almost all of her time and energy focused on herself and her work, and her father gets short blue collar gigs and works odd jobs here and there.
The WallS family is dirt poor. They don’t have enough money to feed their children every day. Everyday showers are not a thing, but rather weekly baths whenever possible, sometimes with recycled bath water. Sometimes they would live in abandoned buildings. Other times they would live out of the family car.
Though Mom and Dad tell themselves they were doing the best they could for their families, they often acted selfishly. They provide here and there, but neither parent can (or want to, depending on your opinion) put forth enough effort to give their children a stable home. Both parents have issues where they are facing their own demons, preventing them from being good parents to their kids.
Jeanette and her siblings are always off doing their own thing with little supervision. Inevitably, she and her brother, who was basically her partner in crime, sometimes would wind up in trouble after a tiff with neighborhood kids or she would get entangled in a bad situation where she would be the victim of bullying. She always has to help take care of her siblings and always has to take care of herself.
The Glass Castle is what Rex WallS (Dad) is working toward. His plan is to build a home completely made of glass, powered by solar energy. He creates the blueprints for the house, having studied up on physics and all things science to research, but the family needs money in order to build such a home.
He tells himself that everything he is doing, searching places to mine for gold to strike it rich, gambling to try to win the jackpot, and leaving for days at a time on jobs, is for his family. But he gets so caught up in those things he can’t focus and make The Glass Castle a reality.
Jeanette and her siblings love the dream of living in The Glass Castle. After all, her father makes it sound like the coolest house, and as a child, why wouldn’t she trust her father?
As the story progresses and Jeanette grows older, we can see how she matures from an innocent, adventurous, and forgiving child who loves and trusts her parents to a young woman who is skeptical, smart, hard-working, and if I had to use a modern-day term, “woke”. Having faced hardships left and right, whether those hardships are due to family circumstances or school bullying, Jeanette becomes a humble, strong, and nearly fearless woman.
The beauty of the story is how Jeanette and her siblings persevere trying times, unite and help each other when needed, and grow to create lives wildly different from their parents’. Her growth throughout the book is so beautifully realistic. When she is seven, she thinks, acts, and speaks just like an average seven year-old, yet you see her situation and what she is surrounded by and how she adapts.
It’s impossible to go through Jeanette’s story and not have opinions on the Walls’ parenting, their careers, their life choices, and more. In fact, a lot of our own analyses of what goes on with the Walls family can end up being quite political.
For example, the Walls are poor but they are too proud to sign up for food stamps or any other type of assistance. Some of us may agree with that and say we would do the same if we were in their shoes, while some of us cannot even fathom not trying to get some type of assistance.
The Glass Castle really gives readers a lot to think about. Jeanette Walls is an inspiration. Also, her story is real.
If you’re interested in reading The Glass Castle yourself (and I highly recommend you do), you can pick up a copy on Amazon. I originally went searching for the book at my local library only to find about 15 holds waiting on each copy of the book, so I ended up purchasing the book and I’m really glad I did.
Oh, and there’s a movie of The Glass Castle coming out on August 12th, starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson. I must say, I am really excited to see the film, especially since Brie Larson is one of my favorites.
If you’ve read The Glass Castle, are reading the book, or are planning on watching the film, let me know in the comments! I would love to talk more about the story. It’s really special when we come across stories like these.