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Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel Paperback – September 7, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,621 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For the first 10 years of her life, Lily Casey Smith, the narrator of this true-life novel by her granddaughter, Walls, lived in a dirt dugout in west Texas. Walls, whose megaselling memoir, The Glass Castle, recalled her own upbringing, writes in what she recalls as Lily's plainspoken voice, whose recital provides plenty of drama and suspense as she ricochets from one challenge to another. Having been educated in fits and starts because of her parents' penury, Lily becomes a teacher at age 15 in a remote frontier town she reaches after a solo 28-day ride. Marriage to a bigamist almost saps her spirit, but later she weds a rancher with whom she shares two children and a strain of plucky resilience. (They sell bootleg liquor during Prohibition, hiding the bottles under a baby's crib.) Lily is a spirited heroine, fiercely outspoken against hypocrisy and prejudice, a rodeo rider and fearless breaker of horses, and a ruthless poker player. Assailed by flash floods, tornados and droughts, Lily never gets far from hardscrabble drudgery in several states—New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois—but hers is one of those heartwarming stories about indomitable women that will always find an audience. (Oct.)
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.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Originally conceived as a biography based on family interviews and historical research, Walls found herself filling in too many blanks for Half Broke Horses to remain a work of nonfiction, so she assumed Smith's indomitable voice and set out to write a novelistic recreation of Smith's unconventional life. Most critics were captivated by Smith's earthy, straightforward style, despite the steady stream of repetitive axioms intermingled with her antics. Only the Washington Post seemed thoroughly disappointed, lamenting that "this book is no Glass Castle." Though Smith, "a gumption-packin' ranch gal whose pluck never quits" (New York Times), may not rise to the intensity of Walls's troubled, nomadic parents, Half Broke Horses nevertheless tells the heartwarming story of an irrepressible woman who carved her own destiny. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416586296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416586296
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,621 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sylviastel VINE VOICE on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jeannette Walls struck gold when she published her personal memoir, "The Glass Castle, a few years back. Her own unusual upbringing touched a spot in people's hearts and minds. I highly recommend the book for schools especially for teens. When you look at Jeannette Walls, you see a sophisticated and intelligent woman who looked like she came out of private boarding schools. The reality is that Jeannette came from poverty where her parents' roaming lifestyle led to them even being homeless on the streets.

In this book, Jeannette wants to write about her mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, but ends up writing about her mother's mother, Lily Casey Smith, who herself was quite a character. Her maternal grandmother was born in 1901 in the Southwest. Like her descendents such as Jeannette and Rosemary, she defied conventional living. She became a school teacher during World War I in Arizona and living in Chicago where she worked as a servant and went to school.

Jeannette writes lovingly about her grandmother and brings her character to life. Lily's life was no picnic and her early years on the ranch with her book-smart father, mother, and siblings-Buster and Helen provide an interesting portrait of life in the American Southwest before World War I.

It's interesting since Jeannette Walls last surprised us with her memoirs to note that she is no longer a social or gossip columnist in New York City's Upper West Side. She and her husband have traded their city lives for a country life in Northern Virginia complete with their own set of beloved horses.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is not as good as her previous book, "The Glass Castles," which I could not put down. This book is a "true-life novel" based on Walls' grandmother, her mother's mother. And it is a wonderful book. Lily Casey Smith was no lily-livered woman who fainted at the slightest urge (Lily's mom did do that on occasion). Lily was the oldest child in her family and by the age of 6 she was helping her father break in horses, a no easy feat for a child, let alone a grown man. Lily was a woman in every sense of the word ... practical, no-nonsense, hard-working and honest. Even though Walls is writing a novel based on her grandmother's life, Walls' words bring the woman to life in every word of the page.

This is a different writing style from Walls' memoir, where it was a thoughtful prose designed to get the reader to read more into a childhood that was hard and filled with parents who couldn't stay put in one place nor could they raise their children. The children raised themselves. In this book, Lily was written to be a tough woman who had faced desperate times ... such as hiding bootleg liquor underneath her son's crib. She did what she could to make ends meet. Even her marriage to Big Jim was practical though I sense through Walls' writing that there was love and mutual respect between the two. Lily is the example of feminism in its best ... she pulled no punches into doing anything. She didn't shy away from speaking her mind even though it did cost her job twice.

Walls has a talent where people and their distant stories just come to life. For awhile there, I was so interested in this novel that I kept forgetting that parts of it is made up since Walls admitted that she never talked with her grandmother so she was filling in the blanks. Lily Casey Smith comes alive in this book and what a wonderful tribute to a woman who is part of Jeannette Walls' heritage. What a rich heritage that is too.

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Format: Hardcover
Jeannette Walls new book "Half Broke Horses" is an enthralling, hard to put down book, written by a brilliant writer. But the book suffers from that most modern of flaws, an inability and actually even a positive embargo on emotions and consequent moral judgments or shadings.

"Half Broke Horses" with Lily, its heroine, a real life pioneer woman, could be the next "I Remember Mama" or "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". But I'm sure Walls and all other modern writers would rather die than be compared to either of those, which would surely be regarded by modern critics as overly sentimental.

So, what we're left with is a book that is a great yarn, with fascinating details about the American Southwest at the turn of the century, told by an immensely talented and skilled writer, that lacks one thing: the pulse of human feeling. There's plenty of sweat, and that makes the characters very admirable, but no blood, and that makes them a little dry and depressing. Events that would scar any normal human heart happen without even drawing a drop of blood or tears or sighs.

And yet the events of her life show that Lily did many things that required courage, strength, love, and dedication, and that heartbreak touched her life more than once. But not only does the author not dwell upon Lily's feelings and the emotions that must have kept her going or threatened to sink her, they are never mentioned. The result is the book's tone becomes like listening to someone suffering from low level depression drone on about their life. Arid, dry, a downer.

The author seems to admire Lily's lack of feeling, as if the best human beings can aspire to is to ignore their emotions. And that may be how Lily got through her daunting and difficult life.
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