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Editor’s Note

“A triumphant exposé...”

With millions of copies sold & a film on the way, reporter Walls’s memoir is a triumphant exposé on the one subject she knows best: her dysfunctional family.
Scribd Editor
MORE THAN SEVEN YEARS ON THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST

The first book by the beloved author of the new novel The Silver Star, the extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, “nothing short of spectacular” (Entertainment Weekly) memoir from one of the world’s most gifted storytellers.

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

Topics: West Virginia, New York City, Appalachia, Family, Poverty, Childhood, Alcoholism, Homelessness, Siblings, Survival, Fathers, Daughters, Inspirational, Emotional, Witty, Mental Illness, 21st Century, Coming of Age, Mothers and Daughters, American Dream, First Person Narration, Female Author, and Dysfunctional Family

Published: Scribner on
ISBN: 9781416550600
List price: $12.99
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I've had the hardest time deciding how to rate this book because it is extremely well written in the only style I think could possibly work for what seems like so outlandish a story, but it's a kind of book I'm not a big fan of reading myself. I've decided to sort of average things out because I just can't convince myself to give 5 stars to something I found so hard to get through. I was listening to a children's audio book about a dysfunctional family at the same time I was reading this which combined to make me even angrier at parents who have children without being interested in actually taking care of those children. Throughout Walls' memoir I actually found myself having more sympathy with the dad because he clearly loved his kids even though he was a broken man and couldn't take care of them well while the mother didn't seem to care about anyone but herself. The entire family's response (or lack thereof) to sexual abuse of the children was perhaps the most appalling part of the story but the entire book was really maddening.

COTC Book Club November 2010 selection.more
Walls's childhood is quite frankly unbelievable . Hers is a story that will tug at your heart-strings and make you cheer for her every step of the way. The whole time I was reading it, I kept wondering if her life would have been different is she grew up now instead of when she did.more
Unbelievable, fascinating, sad memoir.more
I really enjoyed this book; read it super fast. I didn't pay much attention to the writing style. I was just completely pulled into the story of her family. I appreciated the straight forward style and I thought it was edited very well--very little whining and excess prose.
Her parents made me so mad, though. I kept getting distracted by my anger at them. I wonder what it says about me that I lacked even a drop of pity for them. Their kids, on the other hand, were truly amazing and resilient creatures that I rooted for the entire time.more
Jeanette Walls recalls her childhood in this biography. As a teacher, I appreciated Walls' recollections, as it helped me to understand some of the trauma and instability that many of my students face. While I am struggling to help them learn, many are attempting to just survive, while in a safe place for 7 hours. It is incredible that Walls and three of her siblings were able to survive their upbringing, or lack thereof, and to become functioning adults. The self-centeredness of both her parents made me nauseated as I read. Walls' father taking her out to a bar, and allowing a man to sexually assault his own child! Stealing money from his own children to drink himself silly, while they practically starved! These are just two of the many incidences in which I found myself clenching my teeth and praying the children would have survived. Throughout the book, I was sickened that Walls and her siblings were always on the verge of danger and/or death. This book enabled me to see that the human spirit is far more resilient than I give it credit.more
Wonderful autobiography of woman who grows up under extraordinary circumstances. Her mother was narcissistic in a clinical sense. It's amazing to realize she survived all that she describes.more
I know I'm in the minority here but I just didn't latch onto this book the way many others have.more
I think it's a 3.5 stars. I enjoyed reading it, but I wasn't enthralled or totally captivated.

I felt the emotions most people probably did reading it -- loved the kids' sense of adventure, acceptance, and family in the first half of the book. Hated the Dad and Mom in the later part for their lack of responsibility and for the cycles they fell in.

What I find really interesting is how factual most of the story is relayed. This is what happened. This is the way it was. The author conveys her emotions from that time, but does not seem to have any current emotions in her memories. She has removed herself. Therapy?

A few additional thoughts: the Walls kids were adept at overcoming their circumstances and doing their best to appear normal despite the poverty at home -- a reminder that we don't always know the backgrounds of those around us, and we should not be quick to judge poverty, either.
Second, I find it interesting how stereotypical the parents come across, particularly when they are street people in New York. The mother especially. Finally, the summer when the author is in charge of the money but can't say no to her father is very successful in stopping any judgements from the reader along the vein of "I would have said no". It does not say "don't judge" but it removes the opportunity. Neat.

Oh, and I'm very grateful for my own cushy upbringing, though I'm probably not as tenacious as those kids. Which reminds me -- they seemed to get on very easily in NewYork City. I wonder if that's true, or if, for them, after their past it just felt much easier.more
An amazing memoir about a girl who grew up in an unconventional, often dysfunctional and sometimes absolutely abusive and neglectful family -- but who is able to look back at it with love, wonder, and recognition from what she gained from her upbringing. Both inspiring and disturbing -- Jeannette and her siblings should have been taken away from their parents for their own protection, yet her parents also gave her love, intellectual challenge, self-reliance, and a determination to succeed. It makes me wonder -- at what point does genius and a refusal to follow conventional rules go too far?more

Stark, unadorned retelling with surprisingly very little judgment towards the events of her early life, Jeanette Walls crafts a fairy-tale memoir as viewed, in reverse, from a cracked and dirty mirror. A reflection on the self-affirming past that we tell ourselves existed when we were really just gifting Venus.

A valid point from the NYT's review by Francine Prose "At times, the litany of gothic misfortune recalls Harry Crews's classic memoir, ''A Childhood.'' The two books have striking similarities; both, for example, feature the horrific scalding of a child. But to think about Crews's book is to become aware of those mysterious but instantly recognizable qualities -- the sensibility, the tonal range, the lyrical intensity and imaginative vision -- that distinguish the artist from the memoirist, qualities that suggest the events themselves aren't quite so interesting as the voice in which they're recounted."more
I'm not a huge memoir fan, but this was pretty well written. I just lose interest in lots of memoirs (An Unquiet Mind and The Liars' Club come to mind). I'm also not a huge fan of books that show up on the paperback best seller list for long periods of time because I'd like my book clubs to pick out books from whatever time period because they're great books, not because they're bestsellers and would make good movies. Part of my two book groups run on misery picks!more
A really quick read that can captivate easily. I think a lot of people have problems with this book because they can't believe it is real, but ignoring whether or not there is any truth to this, this is just an intriguing story.more
Reading this book made my stomach hurt at times. Jeannette Walls documented her childhood memories which have so much shame and guilt and innocence and sometimes fun in them in what I found a distanced, journalistic way. I read the book in German translation, so maybe this is not the case in the original, but this distance and strength made me feel for her and her brother and sisters even more. They had to be so strong and resourceful to just live through the day. It is not right to make children go through a childhood like this, even if you are an unconventional parent, and although I do not find the saying that what ever does not kill you only makes you stronger entirely untrue, I think it also makes you harder. It makes you different, and some children never manage to start a new, different life, to get away. So here is an important message to parents around the world - please do not do this at home, for your children's sake.more
As an adult child of an alcoholic I could relate to much of this book. Although my childhood was quite different from Jeannette’s I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had my mom chosen not to leave my father. As far as memoirs go this book did not move me the way I thought it would. I was expecting it to elicit much more emotion from me than it actually did. The reason for this I believe is that the author herself remained semi-detached from the story she was telling. It felt more like a story being told by an outsider looking in over a personal account of a chaotic and challenging upbringing. Perhaps Ms. Walls felt the need to maintain an emotional distance from the story in order to tell it accurately and stay true to its facts. The bond between Ms. Walls and her siblings was apparent throughout the book, and I could feel it growing stronger as they began to rely more and more on each other for survival as is often the case in dysfunctional homes. Ms. Walls love for her parents was evident as well. She could have used this opportunity to trash them, and yet, she did not. From reading this book one gets the sense that she has made peace with her parents, forgiven them for their failures and has comes to terms with accepting them for the imperfect people that they were/are.I think this book will be an eye-opener for those readers that were blessed enough to have been raised in supportive and stable homes. I would say it is worth reading for anyone that wants to gain a better understanding of the childhood and lifelong effects of growing up in an alcoholic home.more
I saw one reviewer call this a West Virginia version of McCourt's Angela's Ashes. As far as I'm concerned, it's far better. I didn't care for McCourt's faux James Joyce prose style and often found myself skeptical about his tales. I never felt that way about Walls' story, even though this is written with the detail of a novel and the antics of her parents left me torn between shaking my head and going head desk. Maybe it's that Walls came across as so good-humored, so matter of fact about her childhood without evident bitterness or self-pity. At times she almost made their madcap nomad life sound fun, even as I was amazed the children survived and fervently hoped for their escape from this life. Her parents were so brilliant--both of them, but neither could take care of themselves, let alone four children. Rex Walls, the father, was an alcoholic. Like McCourt's father, he could be charming and violent in turn and wasted what little money the family could earn or steal in drunken binges. The mother, Rose Mary, never had anything stronger than tea, but she was if anything even more maddening--and mad. There is a dark humor in the book at times, but one pitch black. For instance, Rose Mary did hold a teacher's certificate, and sporadically worked as one. The eldest child, Lori, was a student in her class at one point and got paddled as a demonstration to her supervisor that Rose Mary could discipline her class."Were you acting up?" I asked Lori when I heard of the whipping."No," Lori said."Then why would Mom paddle you?""She had to punish someone, and she didn't want to upset the other kids." Rose Mary Walls reminded me a lot of the mother in another memoir I had just read by Rachel Reichl, Tender at the Bone. Reichl's mother was a diagnosed manic-depressive. But what made all the difference for Reichl was that she had other sane adults in her life--including her father. So even though Reichl's mother might have been a trial, what resulted was more comedy than tragedy. The Walls children weren't anywhere near as lucky. At the age Reichl was sampling gourmet brie, Walls was scrounging in garbage bins for something to eat. Yet Walls' book somehow escaped being depressing, and despite it all you feel she still loved her parents. It was a riveting read; I read it in a few hours in one sitting. But it's not fast food: I think this one I'll remember a long time.more
This book was very disturbing. I couldn't read very much at a time. How the parents in this book were never arrested for child abuse is beyond me. To put their children, and one infant, in the back of a u-haul and to leave them in there for hours made me shudder. It's amazing to me how any of them turned out normal.more
Jeanette Walls is a courageous author for telling the world about her extremely eccentric family. I am left wondering how many children from unconventional/abusive homes become successful, and how many children from "good" homes become successful.more
This is one of those books that works it's way into your mind and lodges there. As I go through my own easy life I think of Jeannette and her brother and sisters. Their world seems impossible - completely impossible.Heather recommended this book and I would recommend it too! It's wonderful!!!At the same time that I was shelling peas and listening to the Watergate coverage on TV, she was a 13 year old working in a jewelry store earning the money to feed her, her father and brother. She had already lived through cross country trips, starvation, and more than one near fatal accident. Her family had started out in the dusty gold mining towns of the south west, moved to Phoenix and finally dead-ended in Welch, West Virginia. Each move came a moment before the law and their bad credit caught up to them. Jeannette's dad was a drunk, a dreamer and an extremely intelligent man. Mom was an artist - a painter and a writer, who didn't feel that the family was her responsibility.Jeanette was the second - Lori, an artist and Brian a scrawny fellow a couple years younger than Jeannette. Maureen came along several years later and was more of a pet than one of the sufferers. The Walls family was always the poorest, dirtiest, hungriest and scrappiest of any one else in the neighborhood. But, they were also the smartest - each child reading constantly and continually.Dad and Jeannette had a special connection. Even as Jeannette became old enough to understand what a hopeless schemer he was, she still loved him deeply and wanted so much for his tales to be true.One year when it was clear there was no money at all for Christmas gifts - Rex Walls took the three oldest kids outside one at a time and spun them a yarn about the stars...how no one owned them, they were the first to discover the importance of this amazing real estate. So, he gave each of the kids their own star for Christmas. He told them the stories of the names of the stars and the constellations they were a part of. This was the dichotomy of Jeannette's life... no food, no shelter, but more knowledge than most around.As the three kids grew they knew that their only chance at a better life is to get away from their hovel and their parents. New York beckoned.This story reminds me of Barbara Robinette Moss's book - Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. But, her story is about the hatred in a dysfunctional family. Jeannette's mom and dad made bad choices, but they truly loved their children.These kinds of stories always make me wonder.... what makes a person break the pattern of this kind of a life? Rex Walls was the child of alcoholics and joined their life - but his children did not. How did they find the courage and the drive? Why do so many others fail???more
This book gave me a world to look into that I have never, and will probably never experience. Walls tells us about her unconventional childhood with a mother and father who do things their own way, not caring about certain responsibilities or judgements. This book is sad at some parts, surprising at most, but a great memory that leaves you thinking about the people you have in your life and what you have experienced.more
The first thing Walls tells us about at the opening of her memoir is how she was all dressed up one night being driven to some swanky event or another in Manhattan when she looked out the window and saw a homeless woman digging through trash... and recognized her as her mother. She was so bummed out by this that she felt she couldn't face a crowd of swells and keep pretending she was just like one of them, so she opted to skip the soirée and go back home. Eventually she decided she didn't want to continue being ashamed of her past, which was the motivation for her to write this account of her formative years. The story she proceeds to tell us is a harrowing one and tells of unspeakable neglect, to the point of complete insanity, and indeed, it becomes very clear that severe mental instability was probably what drove her parents to so obsessively dedicate themselves to living a non-conformist lifestyle. As an example, the second episode she tells us about is how, as a three year old, she was cooking hotdogs over the stove when her dress caught on fire and she suffered 3rd degree burns which required her to get skin grafts. Her mother had been fully cognizant of what little Jeannette had been doing and often let the little girl cook by herself as she was occupied in her studio, working on her paintings. The hospital staff where she was being treated were highly suspicious that little Jeannette was probably a victim of parental abuse, which she emphatically denied. Then he father, convinced that hospitals and doctors did more harm than good, took her away from there before she had been fully recovered and brought her to a witch doctor instead. From then on, the story unfolds, recounting the travails of a family which went from one disastrous situation to another, with an alcoholic father who couldn't keep a job and a mother who refused to take her responsibilities, and put her aspirations to be an artist before her children.It's a distressing tale, and I've seen reviewers comment that Walls had probably put a creative spin on the facts to tell a more dramatic story, but I'm not so sure that her story owes more to fiction than reality. From a personal point of view, the level of dysfunction in her family made my strange upbringing seem completely normal and conventional in comparison, but then, hopefully that would be the case for most readers as well. However, having been a witness to very strange and unconventional situations and known people who were most definitely living on the fringe of society, I know that her story is unfortunately all too possible. Walls has a dispassionate way of recounting her past and gives us just enough detail so we can imagine ourselves right there with them all too well, but I found it was impossible to look away; it was an absolutely fascinating observation of a catastrophe extending over several decades, yet it also told of incredible resilience and love, and of siblings who truly looked out for one another and not only survived, but managed to become well-adjusted adults. Walls was able to surmount all the difficulties she faced and get an excellent education, and went on to become a successful journalist, so that while she tells us of her "white trash" background, she's able to describe it to us with intelligence and detachment and deliver a book that I'm almost ashamed to say was a pleasure to read (or in this case, listen to).more
Amazing story, well told. Some of the stories are so over the top you wonder how could they possibly be true, but she says they are. Truth is stranger than fiction as they say...Nature over nurture?more
I absolutely loved this book! I had to keep reminding myself what time period this book was written in.more
"Inauthentic" was all I kept thinking as I listened to Jeannette Walls prattle on about her nomadic childhood. All these "unique" experiences, and she managed to make them sound conventional, cardboard, and trite. I found that there were huge gaps between the experiences of the author and her professed naivety, and could not believe that, at least throughout high school, that these four children never fell into alcohol, drugs, or other pitfalls of unchaperoned children. Overall, it evoked no sympathy from me, mostly because I found I could not relate to the author. She's portrayed as having no intrinsic flaws, as never having done anything wrong, and therefore as practically inhuman. I want my protagonists to be able to express their humanity, especially in a memoir.more
I bought it at the church's attic sale, and am so glad I did. Spellbinding, if it really is based on a true story, is it also profoundly bittersweet.more
I really did not like this book at all and I thought that there were a load of turn-offs in the book. I did not like the sexual content or the drunk father or the mother that didn't take care of her children. ( I do realize this is a true story) I wouldn't recommend this book. EVER.more
The daughter of parents who should have been neutered before they had their children survives a tough childhood with her 3 siblings, drunken father, bipolar idiot mother to create a life that works. Interesting but I wanted to wring the necks of the parents while the tone of the book and the narrator was non-condemnatory. Just the facts but the facts said it all. Three of the kids make it. You can hear about lives that defy logic (the insane or drunken are not logical). These folks looked up to trailer trash. My rating was 4 stars b/c at points it was unbearable to listen (audible) to the stupidity.more
Jeannette Walls had two lousy parents. One was a hopeless drunk and the other lazy, but both were deluded with visions of grandeur and were hopeless excitement addicts. One could blame abusive parents on the one hand (the Dad was likely sexually abused), but on the other the Mom just didn't like to be told what to do and wanted to "finally take care of herself" which seemed to be all she ever did.Jeannette Walls is a successful reporter for MSNBC, but until now she hid her past. She hid the scar she has from when she was three, setting herself on fire while cooking herself hotdogs. Her parents would check out of the hospital early "Walls style" so they wouldn't have to pay the hospital bill. It's a heartbreaking story. Jeannette, her older sister Lori, younger brother Brian, and youngest Maureen all try to fend for themselves in an environment where their parents didn't take care of nor protect them. They fool the children into thinking it's a new adventure every time they need to move, but As they age, the illusion wears off.Even when they had money from their mother's inheritance, the money was spent quickly, they never hold down jobs or stay in a location more than six months. When they run out of options they move to Welch, West Virginia where the Dad is from. They live in a house that's falling apart with no electricity or garbage collection since they can't afford to pay. The only way put of the situation is for the kids to move out on their own. Lori graduates from high school and moves to New York eventually taking the kids with her. Years of living with nothing and having to figure out things on their own leaves them very resourceful. In an environment where many have failed, they succeed. Jeannette puts her hard work as a reporter to use and works her way up and pays her own way through Baynard college.Many would say the hard life growing up led them to success, but I don't believe that. People have the same motivations and drive. Jeannette's situation was more desperate than most. The kids working together got them out of poverty. Ironically, the parents would follow them to New York probably to mooch off of them, which they do.The story is a memoir told in short bursts. It's like asking her to tell of the time that she fell out of the car and the parents didn't notice. Each story has a short arc to either prove how bad the parents were (or how resourceful they could be at times) or how hard the kids had it. The stories are entertaining and short, but it's a little distracting to have a bunch of short narratives pulled together into a book. She never critizes her parents, but shows them for what they are. It's a strange story overall and inspirational that someone could pull themselves out of a horrible situation.more
Very well written. I love her clever style and perspective. It's a wonderful story.more
Walls biography begins with her looking out a taxi window and seeing her mother going thru a dumpster. , She then goes back to her childhood, beginning at her earliest memories: being burnt cooking hotdogs for herself at age 4, painting her skin so the holes in her clothes aren't as obvious, searching for food in the garbage, and much, much more. The family is comprised of unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book. Writing as a child, she relays the story of her and her 3 siblings, and how she made it through such a rough upbringing to become a well known columnist. Heartbreaking and poignant. Those who like this book may wish to read Wall's follow-up, Half Broke Horses, a novel based on the life of the author's grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.more
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Reviews

I've had the hardest time deciding how to rate this book because it is extremely well written in the only style I think could possibly work for what seems like so outlandish a story, but it's a kind of book I'm not a big fan of reading myself. I've decided to sort of average things out because I just can't convince myself to give 5 stars to something I found so hard to get through. I was listening to a children's audio book about a dysfunctional family at the same time I was reading this which combined to make me even angrier at parents who have children without being interested in actually taking care of those children. Throughout Walls' memoir I actually found myself having more sympathy with the dad because he clearly loved his kids even though he was a broken man and couldn't take care of them well while the mother didn't seem to care about anyone but herself. The entire family's response (or lack thereof) to sexual abuse of the children was perhaps the most appalling part of the story but the entire book was really maddening.

COTC Book Club November 2010 selection.more
Walls's childhood is quite frankly unbelievable . Hers is a story that will tug at your heart-strings and make you cheer for her every step of the way. The whole time I was reading it, I kept wondering if her life would have been different is she grew up now instead of when she did.more
Unbelievable, fascinating, sad memoir.more
I really enjoyed this book; read it super fast. I didn't pay much attention to the writing style. I was just completely pulled into the story of her family. I appreciated the straight forward style and I thought it was edited very well--very little whining and excess prose.
Her parents made me so mad, though. I kept getting distracted by my anger at them. I wonder what it says about me that I lacked even a drop of pity for them. Their kids, on the other hand, were truly amazing and resilient creatures that I rooted for the entire time.more
Jeanette Walls recalls her childhood in this biography. As a teacher, I appreciated Walls' recollections, as it helped me to understand some of the trauma and instability that many of my students face. While I am struggling to help them learn, many are attempting to just survive, while in a safe place for 7 hours. It is incredible that Walls and three of her siblings were able to survive their upbringing, or lack thereof, and to become functioning adults. The self-centeredness of both her parents made me nauseated as I read. Walls' father taking her out to a bar, and allowing a man to sexually assault his own child! Stealing money from his own children to drink himself silly, while they practically starved! These are just two of the many incidences in which I found myself clenching my teeth and praying the children would have survived. Throughout the book, I was sickened that Walls and her siblings were always on the verge of danger and/or death. This book enabled me to see that the human spirit is far more resilient than I give it credit.more
Wonderful autobiography of woman who grows up under extraordinary circumstances. Her mother was narcissistic in a clinical sense. It's amazing to realize she survived all that she describes.more
I know I'm in the minority here but I just didn't latch onto this book the way many others have.more
I think it's a 3.5 stars. I enjoyed reading it, but I wasn't enthralled or totally captivated.

I felt the emotions most people probably did reading it -- loved the kids' sense of adventure, acceptance, and family in the first half of the book. Hated the Dad and Mom in the later part for their lack of responsibility and for the cycles they fell in.

What I find really interesting is how factual most of the story is relayed. This is what happened. This is the way it was. The author conveys her emotions from that time, but does not seem to have any current emotions in her memories. She has removed herself. Therapy?

A few additional thoughts: the Walls kids were adept at overcoming their circumstances and doing their best to appear normal despite the poverty at home -- a reminder that we don't always know the backgrounds of those around us, and we should not be quick to judge poverty, either.
Second, I find it interesting how stereotypical the parents come across, particularly when they are street people in New York. The mother especially. Finally, the summer when the author is in charge of the money but can't say no to her father is very successful in stopping any judgements from the reader along the vein of "I would have said no". It does not say "don't judge" but it removes the opportunity. Neat.

Oh, and I'm very grateful for my own cushy upbringing, though I'm probably not as tenacious as those kids. Which reminds me -- they seemed to get on very easily in NewYork City. I wonder if that's true, or if, for them, after their past it just felt much easier.more
An amazing memoir about a girl who grew up in an unconventional, often dysfunctional and sometimes absolutely abusive and neglectful family -- but who is able to look back at it with love, wonder, and recognition from what she gained from her upbringing. Both inspiring and disturbing -- Jeannette and her siblings should have been taken away from their parents for their own protection, yet her parents also gave her love, intellectual challenge, self-reliance, and a determination to succeed. It makes me wonder -- at what point does genius and a refusal to follow conventional rules go too far?more

Stark, unadorned retelling with surprisingly very little judgment towards the events of her early life, Jeanette Walls crafts a fairy-tale memoir as viewed, in reverse, from a cracked and dirty mirror. A reflection on the self-affirming past that we tell ourselves existed when we were really just gifting Venus.

A valid point from the NYT's review by Francine Prose "At times, the litany of gothic misfortune recalls Harry Crews's classic memoir, ''A Childhood.'' The two books have striking similarities; both, for example, feature the horrific scalding of a child. But to think about Crews's book is to become aware of those mysterious but instantly recognizable qualities -- the sensibility, the tonal range, the lyrical intensity and imaginative vision -- that distinguish the artist from the memoirist, qualities that suggest the events themselves aren't quite so interesting as the voice in which they're recounted."more
I'm not a huge memoir fan, but this was pretty well written. I just lose interest in lots of memoirs (An Unquiet Mind and The Liars' Club come to mind). I'm also not a huge fan of books that show up on the paperback best seller list for long periods of time because I'd like my book clubs to pick out books from whatever time period because they're great books, not because they're bestsellers and would make good movies. Part of my two book groups run on misery picks!more
A really quick read that can captivate easily. I think a lot of people have problems with this book because they can't believe it is real, but ignoring whether or not there is any truth to this, this is just an intriguing story.more
Reading this book made my stomach hurt at times. Jeannette Walls documented her childhood memories which have so much shame and guilt and innocence and sometimes fun in them in what I found a distanced, journalistic way. I read the book in German translation, so maybe this is not the case in the original, but this distance and strength made me feel for her and her brother and sisters even more. They had to be so strong and resourceful to just live through the day. It is not right to make children go through a childhood like this, even if you are an unconventional parent, and although I do not find the saying that what ever does not kill you only makes you stronger entirely untrue, I think it also makes you harder. It makes you different, and some children never manage to start a new, different life, to get away. So here is an important message to parents around the world - please do not do this at home, for your children's sake.more
As an adult child of an alcoholic I could relate to much of this book. Although my childhood was quite different from Jeannette’s I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had my mom chosen not to leave my father. As far as memoirs go this book did not move me the way I thought it would. I was expecting it to elicit much more emotion from me than it actually did. The reason for this I believe is that the author herself remained semi-detached from the story she was telling. It felt more like a story being told by an outsider looking in over a personal account of a chaotic and challenging upbringing. Perhaps Ms. Walls felt the need to maintain an emotional distance from the story in order to tell it accurately and stay true to its facts. The bond between Ms. Walls and her siblings was apparent throughout the book, and I could feel it growing stronger as they began to rely more and more on each other for survival as is often the case in dysfunctional homes. Ms. Walls love for her parents was evident as well. She could have used this opportunity to trash them, and yet, she did not. From reading this book one gets the sense that she has made peace with her parents, forgiven them for their failures and has comes to terms with accepting them for the imperfect people that they were/are.I think this book will be an eye-opener for those readers that were blessed enough to have been raised in supportive and stable homes. I would say it is worth reading for anyone that wants to gain a better understanding of the childhood and lifelong effects of growing up in an alcoholic home.more
I saw one reviewer call this a West Virginia version of McCourt's Angela's Ashes. As far as I'm concerned, it's far better. I didn't care for McCourt's faux James Joyce prose style and often found myself skeptical about his tales. I never felt that way about Walls' story, even though this is written with the detail of a novel and the antics of her parents left me torn between shaking my head and going head desk. Maybe it's that Walls came across as so good-humored, so matter of fact about her childhood without evident bitterness or self-pity. At times she almost made their madcap nomad life sound fun, even as I was amazed the children survived and fervently hoped for their escape from this life. Her parents were so brilliant--both of them, but neither could take care of themselves, let alone four children. Rex Walls, the father, was an alcoholic. Like McCourt's father, he could be charming and violent in turn and wasted what little money the family could earn or steal in drunken binges. The mother, Rose Mary, never had anything stronger than tea, but she was if anything even more maddening--and mad. There is a dark humor in the book at times, but one pitch black. For instance, Rose Mary did hold a teacher's certificate, and sporadically worked as one. The eldest child, Lori, was a student in her class at one point and got paddled as a demonstration to her supervisor that Rose Mary could discipline her class."Were you acting up?" I asked Lori when I heard of the whipping."No," Lori said."Then why would Mom paddle you?""She had to punish someone, and she didn't want to upset the other kids." Rose Mary Walls reminded me a lot of the mother in another memoir I had just read by Rachel Reichl, Tender at the Bone. Reichl's mother was a diagnosed manic-depressive. But what made all the difference for Reichl was that she had other sane adults in her life--including her father. So even though Reichl's mother might have been a trial, what resulted was more comedy than tragedy. The Walls children weren't anywhere near as lucky. At the age Reichl was sampling gourmet brie, Walls was scrounging in garbage bins for something to eat. Yet Walls' book somehow escaped being depressing, and despite it all you feel she still loved her parents. It was a riveting read; I read it in a few hours in one sitting. But it's not fast food: I think this one I'll remember a long time.more
This book was very disturbing. I couldn't read very much at a time. How the parents in this book were never arrested for child abuse is beyond me. To put their children, and one infant, in the back of a u-haul and to leave them in there for hours made me shudder. It's amazing to me how any of them turned out normal.more
Jeanette Walls is a courageous author for telling the world about her extremely eccentric family. I am left wondering how many children from unconventional/abusive homes become successful, and how many children from "good" homes become successful.more
This is one of those books that works it's way into your mind and lodges there. As I go through my own easy life I think of Jeannette and her brother and sisters. Their world seems impossible - completely impossible.Heather recommended this book and I would recommend it too! It's wonderful!!!At the same time that I was shelling peas and listening to the Watergate coverage on TV, she was a 13 year old working in a jewelry store earning the money to feed her, her father and brother. She had already lived through cross country trips, starvation, and more than one near fatal accident. Her family had started out in the dusty gold mining towns of the south west, moved to Phoenix and finally dead-ended in Welch, West Virginia. Each move came a moment before the law and their bad credit caught up to them. Jeannette's dad was a drunk, a dreamer and an extremely intelligent man. Mom was an artist - a painter and a writer, who didn't feel that the family was her responsibility.Jeanette was the second - Lori, an artist and Brian a scrawny fellow a couple years younger than Jeannette. Maureen came along several years later and was more of a pet than one of the sufferers. The Walls family was always the poorest, dirtiest, hungriest and scrappiest of any one else in the neighborhood. But, they were also the smartest - each child reading constantly and continually.Dad and Jeannette had a special connection. Even as Jeannette became old enough to understand what a hopeless schemer he was, she still loved him deeply and wanted so much for his tales to be true.One year when it was clear there was no money at all for Christmas gifts - Rex Walls took the three oldest kids outside one at a time and spun them a yarn about the stars...how no one owned them, they were the first to discover the importance of this amazing real estate. So, he gave each of the kids their own star for Christmas. He told them the stories of the names of the stars and the constellations they were a part of. This was the dichotomy of Jeannette's life... no food, no shelter, but more knowledge than most around.As the three kids grew they knew that their only chance at a better life is to get away from their hovel and their parents. New York beckoned.This story reminds me of Barbara Robinette Moss's book - Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. But, her story is about the hatred in a dysfunctional family. Jeannette's mom and dad made bad choices, but they truly loved their children.These kinds of stories always make me wonder.... what makes a person break the pattern of this kind of a life? Rex Walls was the child of alcoholics and joined their life - but his children did not. How did they find the courage and the drive? Why do so many others fail???more
This book gave me a world to look into that I have never, and will probably never experience. Walls tells us about her unconventional childhood with a mother and father who do things their own way, not caring about certain responsibilities or judgements. This book is sad at some parts, surprising at most, but a great memory that leaves you thinking about the people you have in your life and what you have experienced.more
The first thing Walls tells us about at the opening of her memoir is how she was all dressed up one night being driven to some swanky event or another in Manhattan when she looked out the window and saw a homeless woman digging through trash... and recognized her as her mother. She was so bummed out by this that she felt she couldn't face a crowd of swells and keep pretending she was just like one of them, so she opted to skip the soirée and go back home. Eventually she decided she didn't want to continue being ashamed of her past, which was the motivation for her to write this account of her formative years. The story she proceeds to tell us is a harrowing one and tells of unspeakable neglect, to the point of complete insanity, and indeed, it becomes very clear that severe mental instability was probably what drove her parents to so obsessively dedicate themselves to living a non-conformist lifestyle. As an example, the second episode she tells us about is how, as a three year old, she was cooking hotdogs over the stove when her dress caught on fire and she suffered 3rd degree burns which required her to get skin grafts. Her mother had been fully cognizant of what little Jeannette had been doing and often let the little girl cook by herself as she was occupied in her studio, working on her paintings. The hospital staff where she was being treated were highly suspicious that little Jeannette was probably a victim of parental abuse, which she emphatically denied. Then he father, convinced that hospitals and doctors did more harm than good, took her away from there before she had been fully recovered and brought her to a witch doctor instead. From then on, the story unfolds, recounting the travails of a family which went from one disastrous situation to another, with an alcoholic father who couldn't keep a job and a mother who refused to take her responsibilities, and put her aspirations to be an artist before her children.It's a distressing tale, and I've seen reviewers comment that Walls had probably put a creative spin on the facts to tell a more dramatic story, but I'm not so sure that her story owes more to fiction than reality. From a personal point of view, the level of dysfunction in her family made my strange upbringing seem completely normal and conventional in comparison, but then, hopefully that would be the case for most readers as well. However, having been a witness to very strange and unconventional situations and known people who were most definitely living on the fringe of society, I know that her story is unfortunately all too possible. Walls has a dispassionate way of recounting her past and gives us just enough detail so we can imagine ourselves right there with them all too well, but I found it was impossible to look away; it was an absolutely fascinating observation of a catastrophe extending over several decades, yet it also told of incredible resilience and love, and of siblings who truly looked out for one another and not only survived, but managed to become well-adjusted adults. Walls was able to surmount all the difficulties she faced and get an excellent education, and went on to become a successful journalist, so that while she tells us of her "white trash" background, she's able to describe it to us with intelligence and detachment and deliver a book that I'm almost ashamed to say was a pleasure to read (or in this case, listen to).more
Amazing story, well told. Some of the stories are so over the top you wonder how could they possibly be true, but she says they are. Truth is stranger than fiction as they say...Nature over nurture?more
I absolutely loved this book! I had to keep reminding myself what time period this book was written in.more
"Inauthentic" was all I kept thinking as I listened to Jeannette Walls prattle on about her nomadic childhood. All these "unique" experiences, and she managed to make them sound conventional, cardboard, and trite. I found that there were huge gaps between the experiences of the author and her professed naivety, and could not believe that, at least throughout high school, that these four children never fell into alcohol, drugs, or other pitfalls of unchaperoned children. Overall, it evoked no sympathy from me, mostly because I found I could not relate to the author. She's portrayed as having no intrinsic flaws, as never having done anything wrong, and therefore as practically inhuman. I want my protagonists to be able to express their humanity, especially in a memoir.more
I bought it at the church's attic sale, and am so glad I did. Spellbinding, if it really is based on a true story, is it also profoundly bittersweet.more
I really did not like this book at all and I thought that there were a load of turn-offs in the book. I did not like the sexual content or the drunk father or the mother that didn't take care of her children. ( I do realize this is a true story) I wouldn't recommend this book. EVER.more
The daughter of parents who should have been neutered before they had their children survives a tough childhood with her 3 siblings, drunken father, bipolar idiot mother to create a life that works. Interesting but I wanted to wring the necks of the parents while the tone of the book and the narrator was non-condemnatory. Just the facts but the facts said it all. Three of the kids make it. You can hear about lives that defy logic (the insane or drunken are not logical). These folks looked up to trailer trash. My rating was 4 stars b/c at points it was unbearable to listen (audible) to the stupidity.more
Jeannette Walls had two lousy parents. One was a hopeless drunk and the other lazy, but both were deluded with visions of grandeur and were hopeless excitement addicts. One could blame abusive parents on the one hand (the Dad was likely sexually abused), but on the other the Mom just didn't like to be told what to do and wanted to "finally take care of herself" which seemed to be all she ever did.Jeannette Walls is a successful reporter for MSNBC, but until now she hid her past. She hid the scar she has from when she was three, setting herself on fire while cooking herself hotdogs. Her parents would check out of the hospital early "Walls style" so they wouldn't have to pay the hospital bill. It's a heartbreaking story. Jeannette, her older sister Lori, younger brother Brian, and youngest Maureen all try to fend for themselves in an environment where their parents didn't take care of nor protect them. They fool the children into thinking it's a new adventure every time they need to move, but As they age, the illusion wears off.Even when they had money from their mother's inheritance, the money was spent quickly, they never hold down jobs or stay in a location more than six months. When they run out of options they move to Welch, West Virginia where the Dad is from. They live in a house that's falling apart with no electricity or garbage collection since they can't afford to pay. The only way put of the situation is for the kids to move out on their own. Lori graduates from high school and moves to New York eventually taking the kids with her. Years of living with nothing and having to figure out things on their own leaves them very resourceful. In an environment where many have failed, they succeed. Jeannette puts her hard work as a reporter to use and works her way up and pays her own way through Baynard college.Many would say the hard life growing up led them to success, but I don't believe that. People have the same motivations and drive. Jeannette's situation was more desperate than most. The kids working together got them out of poverty. Ironically, the parents would follow them to New York probably to mooch off of them, which they do.The story is a memoir told in short bursts. It's like asking her to tell of the time that she fell out of the car and the parents didn't notice. Each story has a short arc to either prove how bad the parents were (or how resourceful they could be at times) or how hard the kids had it. The stories are entertaining and short, but it's a little distracting to have a bunch of short narratives pulled together into a book. She never critizes her parents, but shows them for what they are. It's a strange story overall and inspirational that someone could pull themselves out of a horrible situation.more
Very well written. I love her clever style and perspective. It's a wonderful story.more
Walls biography begins with her looking out a taxi window and seeing her mother going thru a dumpster. , She then goes back to her childhood, beginning at her earliest memories: being burnt cooking hotdogs for herself at age 4, painting her skin so the holes in her clothes aren't as obvious, searching for food in the garbage, and much, much more. The family is comprised of unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book. Writing as a child, she relays the story of her and her 3 siblings, and how she made it through such a rough upbringing to become a well known columnist. Heartbreaking and poignant. Those who like this book may wish to read Wall's follow-up, Half Broke Horses, a novel based on the life of the author's grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.more
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