Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Hello, everyone! I thought that I would do something serious for once and post a book review without being sassy. Alas, it was an in-school assignment, so I had no choice. But salt aside, I loved The Glass Castle. Maybe even more than Hamlet.  JK I love you Shakespeare.

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A Mandatory Book Review 

(Alternatively titled: Why Do I Still Have Homework in May?)

By Me

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The saying goes that blood is thicker than water, but in Jeannette Walls’ wrenching memoir The Glass Castle, pride, addiction, and idealism run just as thick. The memoir is less than 300 pages, but it spans 40 years of Walls’ life, covering the family’s nomadic lifestyle, her parents’ struggle with addiction, and the traumas of adolescence. It is  a memoir that begins with a happy ending, but is punctuated with nightmarish scenes of abandonment and abuse. Resonant throughout is Walls’ clear, objective voice that narrates each transgression with the impersonal tone of a priest forgiving a confessor.

When we first meet the  three-year old Jeannette Walls, she burns herself cooking hot-dogs and spends a stint of six weeks at the hospital. Her father checks her out “Rex Walls style” by grabbing Jeannette, bandages and all, and ditching the hospital without paying the bill. The Walls are “always doing the skedaddle,” leaving their home and property behind to venture on to a new and exciting life. This ding-dong ditch existence is painted with nostalgia in Jeannette’s early years, but as she grows older, she starts to wish for the traditional trappings of the American lifestyle: a clean home, food on the table, and permanence. These desires bring her into stark contrast with her parents, whose flower child ideals resist tradition at every turn. Their idealism is best exemplified through the Glass Castle, a mythical glass house that Jeannette’s father Rex has promised to  build when they strike gold. Though Rex always carries around the blueprints, he can never find the time to put his ideas into action.

The second half of the book forces a dramatic shift in Walls’ recollection. After leaving their first real home in Phoenix to move to Welch, West Virginia, Jeannette and her family’s life takes a plunge into penury. Fifth-grade Jeannette can no longer hold the same faith in her parents as before; when they leave on a trip to Phoenix, Jeannette has to convince herself that they “won’t leave them forever,” . When the Walls move into a crumbling shack on Hobart Street, Jeannette can no longer let us see her life through rose-colored glasses. The truth of the Walls family is like their new house: a symbol of decay and uncertainty. As the book progresses, Jeannette comes to terms with the falsity of her life, and must decide whether nurturing the dreams of her father is more important than nurturing her own.

The Glass Castle is a memoir that effectively portrays outrageous events without ever asking for justice. The book has simple, yet engaging language that makes the reader feel as comfortable with the characters as if they were their own family. And even though Walls never asks the reader to judge, she does ask them to contemplate the fundamental bonds of family. How far must one go to support their family, and when should one let go of a family that fails to support them? These are complicated questions, but Jeannette Walls gives them a sophisticated, unbiased treatment. The Glass Castle is the rare type of memoir that invites the reader to watch from a distance. We may feel the urge to point fingers, but The Glass Castle does not. 

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But!

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P.S

I watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the first time the other day. It blew me away. The score is breathtaking, the visuals are gorgeous, and it stars Catherine Deneuve! Catherine Deneuve, people! Plus, it’s all in French. If you are craving a musical, you can find the whole movie on Youtube. Unfortunately, it’s in French without subtitles, but you can just be like me and try to extrapolate the plot. Besides, musicals don’t need plots, they just need good singing!

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