A brave woman named Jeannette Walls reveals her difficult childhood with her neglectful parents to the world in her memoir The Glass Castle. Jeannette can recall memories as far back as when she was three years old. Readers can learn of the many hardships she and her siblings had to face. Her father Rex Walls and mother Rose Mary Walls, to say the least, are terrible parents. Rex was a controlling alcoholic while Rose was a self-absorbed, bipolar mother. Rex imagined a fantasy where his family would be living in a glass castle. Jeannette, his daughter and the narrator of the story, had faith in her father that they would achieve the dream of making the glass castle. In the book, the reader can follow the struggles the family deals with in trying to make their dream become reality. The children did not have much of a childhood for they had to grow up quickly. This book review of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle will explain the author’s motivation, the strong and weak points of the book, and my impressions of the book.
Jeannette Walls was motivated by the many events in her life to share her story. In an ABC News interview, Jeannette says she was worried that she would lose her job if her story got out. At the time, her parents were homeless in New York City. Jeannette says, “There were a few times when the story did almost get out — my parents were becoming sort of high profile squatters and kept on being interviewed in newspapers and on television — but for a variety of reasons, it didn’t” (“Jeannette”). Knowing this, Jeannette must have felt pressure to release her story. I could tell from her writing that she wanted every detail about her parent’s behavior in her book. She wanted people to know that she was not from a privileged family like many people may have thought. Another reason why she may have wrote this book was to gain sympathy. All her life she had gotten no sympathy from her parents. Sympathy is probably not the main reason she wrote this book, but she might want just a little. Jeannette may want to influence people to be kind to other people because no one knows that person’s past. Jeannette has gained many readers that look up to her for her perseverance. Throughout the whole book, we see Jeannette overcoming many hardships with a lot of optimism. She has become a role model for many kids who could be in her situation. It would be an honor to meet this woman because of all of the things she has dealt with.
The Glass Castle is filled with Jeannette’s many life stories which help make the book strong. All of these stories keep readers attentive and easily engaged. Her voice does not bore readers. Her voice changes from a child to an adult. Changing it up like Jeannette did helps keep readers interested.
There are many themes in the story. Some include; nonconformity, fire, and self-sufficiency. Nonconformity is seen when Rex was always running away from the law. He did not take responsibility for his actions and so he changed homes all of the time. Fire never seemed to escape Jeannette’s life. She explains, I wondered if the fire had been out to get me.
I wondered if all fire was related, like Dad said all humans were related, if the fire that had burned me that day while I cooked hot dogs was somehow connected to the fire I had flushed down the toilet and the fire burning at the hotel. I didn’t have the answers to those questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.
The fire can be a symbol telling us that Jeannette’s life was chaotic. The family never settled down and the children’s school was always being changed. Nothing had been easy for Jeannette. Lastly, self-sufficiency plays a role in all of the children’s lives. If the children wanted to live, then they had to find food by going through dumpsters. Jeannette had to get a job to help with the funds to go to New York. She describes, “I was afraid that Mr. Becker wouldn’t give me the job if he knew I was only thirteen, so I told him I was seventeen” (Walls 42). A child should not be getting a job that young. It is the parent’s responsibility to take care of their children until their children grow older. The Walls children could not rely on their parents and had to do most things for themselves.
With many writings, there are always some weak points in the story. I found Jeannette hard to believe when she talked about her three year old memories. According to Ellie Zolfagharifard from Daily Mail, she says, “Scientists believe people only recall memories from 3.5 years old onwards. But study found that children postdate earliest memories by up to 9 months. Girls were more accurate in being able to recall early memories than boys” (“How”). Many times I found the beginning of the book hard to believe. Jeannette provided such intricate details that were too hard to trust. Research does show that one can remember that far back. Jeannette’s events, especially with cooking hot dogs and burning herself, may have been so traumatic that she recalled ever single detail. I find that Jeannette is more credible as she grows older.
Before reading this book, I thought I would be reading about how much Jeannette hated her parents and wanted nothing to do with them. However, throughout the whole story Jeannette still loved her parents and cared about them, even when Rex almost let her drown.
She learned from this experience and believes, “If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim” (Walls 66). Rex may have almost let Jeannette drown until she learned to swim, but they both still loved each other. Rose Mary was too delusional to see that her children were suffering, and even then, Jeannette still loved her and had forgiven her.
I like how Jeannette did not leave anything out of this book. She did not care about hurting other people’s feelings, especially her parents. All she wanted to do was to tell her story. If she left out some of the important stories, the book would not have had such an impact. One of the things I did not like about the book was how Jeannette did not talk much about her sister Maureen. It was all about Jeannette, her sister Lori, and her brother Brian.
One of the few times we heard about Maureen was when she went to a mental institution for stabbing Rose Mary in the back. I wanted to know more about Maureen and what she was thinking. What would have made this book even more interesting is if Jeannette got her siblings opinions and memories as well. Since Lori was born first, she had an idea of what Rex and Rose Mary were like before everyone else was born. It might have given the readers insight into what the other siblings thought of their parents. Even then, Jeannette should write another book on the same subject but from the point of view of Lori, Brian, and Maureen.
The author provided a new view on life that most people could hardly imagine. Most people do not grow up in these situations. I am glad that Jeannette released this book because she wants people to know her story and we want to know hers.
I wished that Jeannette would have gone into further detail about her parent’s childhood. We did learn a little bit about Rex’s mom, Erma, and how she was an alcoholic. If Erma was a better parent to Rex than he probably would have been a better parent to his children. If we learned more about the parent’s background, then we might feel more sympathy towards them. Readers look at Rex and Rose Mary as the antagonists in the story. If readers knew more about the parent’s past then maybe we would think otherwise on how they treated their children. I am not saying that their parenting is right at all, but we might understand why they were the way they were.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a good read. It is about a dysfunctional family that is trying to find a place in this world. The Glass Castle can be very relatable to many people. Jeannette has no shame in revealing what happened to her when she was young. This shows how strong and courageous she is to put her life story out to the public. This book is a good place to start if one has not read a memoir before. It is a simple read and very easy to understand. In releasing this book, Jeannette may have found a better way to cope with what happened to her. For Jeannette, her life was forever changed by the events that happened to her in the past. Rex and Jeannette’s glass castle did come true when Jeannette found a happy life for herself.
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