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The Glass Castle: A Memoir Hardcover – October 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover. --Brangien Davis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Freelance writer Walls doesn't pull her punches. She opens her memoir by describing looking out the window of her taxi, wondering if she's "overdressed for the evening" and spotting her mother on the sidewalk, "rooting through a Dumpster." Walls's parents—just two of the unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book—were a matched pair of eccentrics, and raising four children didn't conventionalize either of them. Her father was a self-taught man, a would-be inventor who could stay longer at a poker table than at most jobs and had "a little bit of a drinking situation," as her mother put it. With a fantastic storytelling knack, Walls describes her artist mom's great gift for rationalizing. Apartment walls so thin they heard all their neighbors? What a bonus—they'd "pick up a little Spanish without even studying." Why feed their pets? They'd be helping them "by not allowing them to become dependent." While Walls's father's version of Christmas presents—walking each child into the Arizona desert at night and letting each one claim a star—was delightful, he wasn't so dear when he stole the kids' hard-earned savings to go on a bender. The Walls children learned to support themselves, eating out of trashcans at school or painting their skin so the holes in their pants didn't show. Buck-toothed Jeannette even tried making her own braces when she heard what orthodontia cost. One by one, each child escaped to New York City. Still, it wasn't long before their parents appeared on their doorsteps. "Why not?" Mom said. "Being homeless is an adventure."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439156964
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439156964
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4,925 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jeannette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,403 of 1,459 people found the following review helpful By beckybramer on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I grew up in Welch, WV and was acquainted with Jeanette and Brian(Lori was older and Maureen was younger). I can attest that her harrowing account of growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother in the coalfields of WV was as she says. This was a compelling read, all the more so, because it was about people and places I knew so well. As I read, I was filled with sorrow and shame because I was one of those people who didn't want to have close association with them because they were so different from me. I try to asuage my guilt by telling myself I saw things from a child's maturity level. I wish I could apologize and find myself wondering what would have happened if I had befriended Jeanette. She could have enriched my like tremendously. For those of you who doubt things could not have happened like it was written, don't. I knew it and I saw it, and to a degree, lived it. And as tragic as it was, it was true.
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932 of 993 people found the following review helpful By andy behrman on February 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
First, "The Glass Castle" is a real page turner - - I couldn't put it down and finished it in about four hours - - a record for me!

It's probably the most thoughtful and sensitive memoir I can ever remember reading - - told with such grace, kindness and fabulous sense of humor.

It's probably the best account ever written of a dysfunctional family -- and it must have taken Walls so much courage to put pen to paper and recount the details of her rather bizarre childhood - - which although it's like none other and is so dramatic - - any reader will relate to it. Readers will find bits and pieces of their own parents in Rex and Rose Mary Walls.

Her journey across the country, ending up in a poor mining town in West Virginia and then finally in New York City, is a fascinating tale of survival.

Her zest for life, even when eating margarine and sugar and bundled in a cardboard box with sweaters, coats and huddling with her pets, is unbelievably beautiful - - and motivating.

If I could give a book ten stars, it would be "The Glass Castle."
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481 of 524 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Seay on December 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Jeannette Wall's trek, as depicted in "Glass Castle", recalls Dante's

journey through Hell and eventual ascenscion to Paradise. The comparison may seem risibly over-dramatic, but just as Dante had to go through the experience of the Netherworlds before he could be led to Heaven, so, too, is Jeannette's eventual triumph the FRUIT of a childhood filled with poverty and, what some would call, parental neglect or even abuse.

In the opening section about Jeannette's early childhood, sort of the outer rungs of hell, we are introduced to the author's quirky family. Her father, Rex, is a brainy underachiever who cannot keep a job and has a bit of a "drinking situation".

The mother is an eccentric artist who cannot be bothered too much

by mundane tasks- you know, like cooking or cleaning the house. The children, all extremely bright, are often underfed and left to fend for themselves. However, if the parents have failings, they also have redeeming qualities. The children are immersed in an environment that values art, music, intellectual pursuits, freedom and self-sufficiency and spurns racism and all forms of bourgeois superficiality. Above all, the reader never doubts that Rex and his wife truly love the children. One gets the feeling throughout that Jeanette never doubts that either.

In any case, the early years are bittersweet. If there is squalor and hunger there is also humor and magic. Most of all, there is hope. The family frequently moves and, although that is frustrating, it also provided the background for a myth: that the next town would provide prosperity.

But then to Welch they did go!
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143 of 155 people found the following review helpful By Yours Truly VINE VOICE on November 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
I was grateful that the chapters are short in this disturbing memoir, because I could only take in a little at a time. It's difficult to imagine a more dysfunctional household than the one in which Walls grew up. What sets her book apart is the distinctive voice in which she narrates that dysfunction, and her growing awareness that she's entitled to a decent life.

We meet the fiesty Jeannette as a toddler, badly burned while cooking hot dogs on a stove for herself. No, she wasn't defying her mother's orders. She was simply taking care of herself in a household where both parents thumbed their noses at such simple conventions as regular meals, sound shelter, decent clothing, running hot water and protection from sexual predators. On one thing, though, they didn't scrimp: the children were taught to read at an early age. I'm convinced that held the key to their survival. Thanks to public libraries, Jeannette read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder prairie series before she entered school. It must have helped normalize the survivalist lifestyle that her parents adopted.

The difference is that it wasn't necessary. Rex, her father, was when sober an accomplished electrician and science maven. Her mother, Rose Mary, had a college degree but found teaching, like motherhood, an imposition on her life as an artist. The three older children--Lori, Jeannette and Bryan--functioned as a family within the family. The youngest, Maureen, grew dependent on the kindess of strangers and eventually set out on her own.

This is a uniquely American story that wanders all over the landscape from California and Arizona to West Virginia and New York.
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