The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle

A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like...

Title:The Glass Castle
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Edition Language:English

The Glass Castle Reviews

  • Kate

    This book really made me angry--why can people who have absolutely no business having kids be able to have four?

    Let me backtrack...

    In the beginning, the Walls family is always on the run. The father is an alcoholic, who is intelligent, but believes everything upon everything is a conspiracy. He can't get a job because of the mafia, the government, the gestapo...The mother has a teaching degree, but chooses to be an artist. The family is barely able to scrape by; the father spends any money they

    This book really made me angry--why can people who have absolutely no business having kids be able to have four?

    Let me backtrack...

    In the beginning, the Walls family is always on the run. The father is an alcoholic, who is intelligent, but believes everything upon everything is a conspiracy. He can't get a job because of the mafia, the government, the gestapo...The mother has a teaching degree, but chooses to be an artist. The family is barely able to scrape by; the father spends any money they have on alcohol, the kids barely eat, and all this time, the mother sits around, doing nothing but reading. In fact, at one point, the 12 year old narrator Jeannette tells her mother that she needs to get a job, and her mother says that it's "not fair" that she has to work. Later, when Jeannette suggests that her mother get a job and home with a wealthy family and take care of the kids, her mother says, "I've spent my whole life taking care of people! I just want to take care of me."

    Perhaps now you can see why this book made me so angry. I know that there are people like Jeannette's parents who feed their children margarine sandwiches and tell them to go to the bathroom in a bucket that is dumped outside because there's no indoor plumbing and the "toilet" is already completely filled. I know that these people exist, but I still can't believe it. A part of me was hoping that Walls pulled a James Frey and made a lot of this up, but another part of me realizes she probably didn't.

    Despite the knot in the pit of my stomach, I enjoyed the book. After all, only a book this engaging and well-written could spark such a vivid and real response. It's a quick and easy read, and despite how angry I was for most of it, the book gave me hope that no matter how messed up a person's childhood is, he/she can still end up as a normal, productive part of society.

  • Juliet

    Okay, I originally gave this one star but then had to go back and re-rate it to a two b/c I surprised a couple of you guys and in my impulsive way, I realized perhaps one star was a bit too knee jerk.

    It's not that I hated The Glass Castle, it's just that it irritated me with its self-conscious narrative style. Too much "look at how horrible things were!" and not enough detail or challenges to make me really care.

    The same stories are told and re-told throughout the memoir

    , and they rely too

    Okay, I originally gave this one star but then had to go back and re-rate it to a two b/c I surprised a couple of you guys and in my impulsive way, I realized perhaps one star was a bit too knee jerk.

    It's not that I hated The Glass Castle, it's just that it irritated me with its self-conscious narrative style. Too much "look at how horrible things were!" and not enough detail or challenges to make me really care.

    The same stories are told and re-told throughout the memoir

    , and they rely too much on symbolism for my taste. I don't know how many times The Glass Castle is mentioned, but it was clear enough the first time we're told about it. Yes, I get it. Pretty shiny vulnerable fragile fortress - drunk father whose fantasies are selfish and unstable. Mother who's out to lunch. No money - just imaginations. Okay. Got it.

    Then, before we really have connected to any of the characters in their youth, we fast forward to today's NYC in which lo and behold, the storyteller is a successful writer. Gag.

    Basically, this book is a pale imitation of The Liar's Club. Karr's book is a jump off a cliff into a bravely realized memoir with enormous depth in the details, not to mention the writer's conflicted feelings about the meaning of father, of mother, of family, of self. By being so specific about her life and her family's life, Karr touches us deeply about family and self, too.

    Walls had an interesting life, but the story reads like someone else's family's trip. So that's why I'm giving it a 2. :)

  • Annalisa

    What I loved about this book is this: it presents her parents, with all their faults, and the poor mentality, at its worst, without anger, exasperation, or even really any judgment, just with the quirky love we all view our own childhoods. If she had been bitter in her description it would not have been believable, but instead it was tinged with forgiveness making me respect her for not only surviving such a strange childhood to become a successful, even functioning, adult but for being able to

    What I loved about this book is this: it presents her parents, with all their faults, and the poor mentality, at its worst, without anger, exasperation, or even really any judgment, just with the quirky love we all view our own childhoods. If she had been bitter in her description it would not have been believable, but instead it was tinged with forgiveness making me respect her for not only surviving such a strange childhood to become a successful, even functioning, adult but for being able to view her past with impartiality.

    What was thought-provoking for me was the idea that if you think you're a victim you are and if you don't you're not. As appalling as her mother's reaction was to her troubles, it's true. We do overprotect our children at the price of their own growth sometimes. And in this society we are on the jumpy side when it comes to misconduct, but telling someone they have been victimized isn't always best for them. It's not empowering. We've gone so much to the other extreme that it was good to reconsider a sway more toward center. There has to be a medium where we aren't making children grow up as toddlers but also not sheltering them from making their own decisions until their adults.

    There are also a lot of class "poor" mentalities in the book. The way the family never planned for the future as in aimed to use any gift or income to exponentially improve their lives, but horded means until they ran out. They tore down what they had until it ran out. They lived day to day. They took advantage when they could. The old adage that you give a man a fish he'll eat for a day but teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime is moot. They were not concerned with bettering their station in life only getting all they could out of it today.

    I found it strange that both parents were so highly intelligent and capable and yet they chose to be homeless. It bothered me that they thought the best existence would be to throw their burdens on society and let it care for them without realizing, or caring, that someone was paying and working for their existence. It bothered me that they didn't think of their children's welfare above their own but used them like they would any other member of society. At times I found my blood boiling at the actions of her parents. That's what dysfunction will do to you.

    And yet, she presents the incidents without anger or hurt. It happened. It shaped her glasses of the world. But the past isn't a happy place to live. She took what good she could from her experience (or bad to learn from) and moved determinedly from a childhood she didn't enjoy into an adulthood she could pick. And that's what a memoir should do: show us the past to affect the future, not to give us a place to live.

  • Angela Cross

    I guess I have a somewhat different frame of reference than several of the reviewers here. I can relate to many of the lessons she learned, and as such, I never had an issue believing her. These things can and do happen. The system fails children, and addicts (whether they're addicted to alcohol or excitement) will seek their fix above all else. As long as the addiction is in the picture, the person just doesn't exist. Children in alcoholic families eventually become aware of this, and the soone

    I guess I have a somewhat different frame of reference than several of the reviewers here. I can relate to many of the lessons she learned, and as such, I never had an issue believing her. These things can and do happen. The system fails children, and addicts (whether they're addicted to alcohol or excitement) will seek their fix above all else. As long as the addiction is in the picture, the person just doesn't exist. Children in alcoholic families eventually become aware of this, and the sooner they "get it" the better for them. In the book, this is nowhere more clearly evidenced than in the case of Walls' youngest sister, who spent the least amount of time in the presence of her parents dysfunction, and yet was finally the most crippled of all the children.

    Of course, I admit, I have a firmly-seated belief that the strongest and most creative of personalities are forged in fire; Maureen just didn't get burned enough to see the necessity of making a different life for herself. That, and she was separated from her other siblings by so many years that they took care of her more than they tried to include her in their effort to survive.

    I loved this book. Walls' short (but revealing) scenes were detail and character-driven, and there were several times I caught myself chuckling at some absolute absurdity or marveling at an unexpected bit of wisdom from someone who should have been a totally unreliable source.

    And I guess that's one of the main things I came away with after reading this book. Wisdom can come from anyone...whether we like them or not. And the trick to surviving is to take those things that make us better and stronger with us, and to leave the rest behind.

  • Elyse

    Another Update: I just saw the movie!!! I liked it! Woody Harrelson - Brie Larson

    and Naomi Watts were all great! I thought they got the important 'duel' emotions just right. On one end - the parents did not 'protect' their kids appropriately at all-- lots of crazy dangerous chaos-

    On the other end - there was no question the parents loved wholeheartedly their children AND there were 'some' great gifts they gave their children - so our emotions are 'mixed'.

    At the end of the movie when they show

    Another Update: I just saw the movie!!! I liked it! Woody Harrelson - Brie Larson

    and Naomi Watts were all great! I thought they got the important 'duel' emotions just right. On one end - the parents did not 'protect' their kids appropriately at all-- lots of crazy dangerous chaos-

    On the other end - there was no question the parents loved wholeheartedly their children AND there were 'some' great gifts they gave their children - so our emotions are 'mixed'.

    At the end of the movie when they show the real -Jeanette Walls & her mom- plus wonderful photos of the kids growing up... it's very touching?

    Update: I just read some place that a movie is being made of this book. I want to share something about my relationship with "The Glass Castle" --that I've shared with a few people on this site --but never with the larger community.

    I read this book in 2006. It was a gift from a friend. She mailed it to me from New York. She said...

    "YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK". The book had only been out about a week. I wasn't much of a reader.

    My friend knew me well --knew about my childhood --and said ...."you 'will' read this book".

    Paul and I were leaving for Harbin Hot Springs --a regular -'get-a-way' place for us at the time. I took "The Glass Castle" with me. I mentioned in my other 'little' review --that I read it while sitting under a tree. The author became my hero!

    What I 'didn't' say was ....."I then read another book, right away"! I liked it too! Then another book... Then another! I HAD *NOT* BEEN A READER UNTIL THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!

    I'm not saying this was the best book in the entire world -(but it was great),- but I'm saying 'something' happened to me. I have been reading book-after-book -after -book (never NOT reading a book) --since 2006!!!

    Looking back, I'm 'thankful' the following few books were all good experiences. Had they been awful books....I might not have kept reading.

    Having several good books under my belt, if I hit a book I didn't like later on, --I didn't worry any longer. I knew reading was enjoyable. I felt comfort in ways I couldn't explain.

    I wanted to call my long time friend 'reader' friends from Jr. High School (Lisi, Renee, Ron) ---friends who were always reading --and say....."why didn't you tell me"? "why didn't you tell me how intimate -personal - WONDERFUL - READING WAS? ------

    Now, as an adult, I was not reading for a class....or a grade. I wasn't reading to please anyone!!!!

    I'm still clear I have holes in my education. I KNOW I'm a LATE BLOOMER READER.....(For many many years of reading these past years --I still wasn't sure if I would call myself a reader --I just knew I was always reading)

    Point is ---I found READING ---LATE IN LIFE!!! (Its NEVER TOO LATE).

    Nobody can take away something you really enjoy! I may not be the smartest cookie in the room --- but I'm

    honored to 'be-in-the-room'!!!

    I love to hear from THE FLASHLIGHT READERS!!! Oh my gosh --you guys have such great 'childhood' reading memories. I melt hearing them. (sometimes cry).

    I love to hear from the READERS whose parents read to you OFTEN as a child.

    I love to hear about books YOUR parents gave you

    I love to hear about books Members share with their children

    I love to CHAT about books we love together (this si get to participate 'with you now)

    I love to read 'too'!

    If I left this site tomorrow ---I'd still have reading -- I'd still have friends to chat about with about books.

    Its real now -- -- I read! THIS BOOK --(for whatever reason) --- kicked my new reading- habit into high gear!!! ----

    So, I'm very thankful to Jeannette Walls --she changed my life!

    Any 3 year old who tries to cook her own hot dog on the kitchen stove alone (my god -bless the little girl Jeannette was) --has me melting in the palm of her hands.

    Thanks --its never too late to become a reader!

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Agree with my friend, Victoria!!! (who just read the book and wrote a 5 star review)

    5 stars!!!

    I read this book sittng under a tree at Harbin Hot Springs one summer --

    Jeannette Walls became my hero!

  • Krenzel

    "The Glass Castle" is a memoir written by gossip columnist Jeanette Walls, which details her unconventional childhood growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother who seems to be mentally ill. Walls begins the book by explaining what has prompted her to write about her family: after she has "made it" and become a successful writer living in New York, she comes across her mother picking trash out of a dumpster and, in shame, slinks down in her taxi seat and pretends not to see or know her. La

    "The Glass Castle" is a memoir written by gossip columnist Jeanette Walls, which details her unconventional childhood growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother who seems to be mentally ill. Walls begins the book by explaining what has prompted her to write about her family: after she has "made it" and become a successful writer living in New York, she comes across her mother picking trash out of a dumpster and, in shame, slinks down in her taxi seat and pretends not to see or know her. Later, Walls confronts her mother, asking what she is supposed to tell people about her parents, and her mother replies, "Just tell the truth. That’s simple enough."

    Of course, "The Glass Castle" is anything but simple, as Walls attempts to come to terms with her upbringing. The first third of the memoir deals with her young childhood on the west coast, as her parents live as nomads, moving frequently between desert towns, always seeking the next adventure. Walls' mother is the key figure we meet here: an artist and a writer, she seems to live in her own world and doesn't express much concern in the practical realities of raising her children. In a key passage, Walls' mother takes the kids with her to give them art lessons, as she paints and studies the Joshua tree. Walls tells her mother of her plan to dig up the tree, replant it, and protect it so it can go straight. Walls' mother admonishes her, "You'd be destroying what makes it special. It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives its beauty." This appears to be Walls' mother's philosophy of life – looking for the next struggle – as the family willingly gives up its nice residence in Phoenix that Walls' mother had inherited from her family to move to the father's home town – a depressed coal town in West Virginia.

    The family's time in West Virginia makes up the next third of the story and depicts a depressed life in a depressed town. It is in West Virginia where the family seems to drift apart, particularly Walls' father, who up to this point, had been worshipped and revered by his daughter. Like Walls' mom, her dad has a lot of imagination; while he takes odd jobs that never last long, his real dream is to strike it rich with one of his inventions. He promises, once he has found his gold, that he is going to build a "glass castle" – his most special project – a great big house for the family to live in. Once in West Virginia, Walls and her brother figure they will make the best of the situation, and they spend a month digging a hole in the ground to serve as the foundation for the glass castle. But because the family can't pay for trash collection, their father instructs them instead to use the hole for the family's garbage. Although she has always been her father's defender, Walls grows disillusioned with her father, eventually telling him he will never build the glass castle.

    Determined not to end up like her parents, Walls moves to New York, where the last third of the book transpires. It is here that Walls "makes it," graduating from college, gaining employment as a writer, marrying a rich husband, and settling into a Park Avenue apartment. Interestingly, while Walls has rejected her parents' lifestyle, it is now their turn to reject hers. Her father refuses to visit the Park Avenue apartment, while her mother, after visiting the apartment, asks Walls, "Where are the values I raised you with?" At this point, it is a mystery what values Walls actually possesses. By crafting the memoir around stories of her childhood, we as readers are often troubled, not just because of the content of the stories but because the stories don't provide much in the way of reflection or introspection. It is, in fact, unclear what Walls actually does value – will she continue to identify success with the material trappings of her "normal" life in New York, or will she ultimately reject the conventional life, as her parents did? Without more reflection from Walls, particularly in this concluding section of the book, readers are left to their own interpretation of "the truth" about her parents – are they just a drunk father and a lazy mother, or is there something more to it?

    The "Glass Castle" is an addicting page-turner that should captivate any reader. However, without this reflection and introspection from Walls about her childhood, the book misses an opportunity to make a more lasting impact on readers and ultimately fails to reach the level of a work like "Angela’s Ashes." In the end, it is up to readers to make up their own minds about "the truth" of Walls' parents and her upbringing and what it all means. I chose to discount some of her parents' flaws and instead read this book as an homage to her parents. To me, the key passage in the book is when Walls visits a classmate's home in West Virginia and sees the empty walls in the house (in stark contrast to her own home, which is cluttered with paintings and books and decorations) and rejects the notion that her classmate's father, passed out on the couch, bares any resemblance to her own father. After Walls recounts the story to her family, her mother replies that she should show compassion for her classmate because not everybody has "all the advantages you kids do." Although the statement is ironic on its face, as the family fights over the crumbs of a chocolate bar, the distinction is clear: Walls' family may not provide her with much in the way of tangible goods, but they give her things that are more lasting – a belief in herself, a passion for reading and writing, an appreciation for things a lot of us take for granted, and most of all love. In the end, it was not important whether her parents actually built her a glass castle. It was that they gave her the idea of a glass castle. By overcoming her shame for her parents and writing this memoir, Walls seems to recognize this truth about her parents – that, like the Joshua tree, there was beauty in their struggle.

  • Sparrow

    My sister saw

    on my coffee table and said, “Oh, I read that. It’s kind of . . .” then she paused and we both were awkwardly silent for a minute. “Well, I was going to say, it’s kind of like us, a little bit, but not –“

    “Yeah,” I said. “I wasn’t going to say it – because not all of it – “

    “Yeah, not all of it.”

    We didn’t talk about it again.

    When I first saw this book, I think I died a little inside because of the cover. I didn’t hate

    like

    My sister saw

    on my coffee table and said, “Oh, I read that. It’s kind of . . .” then she paused and we both were awkwardly silent for a minute. “Well, I was going to say, it’s kind of like us, a little bit, but not –“

    “Yeah,” I said. “I wasn’t going to say it – because not all of it – “

    “Yeah, not all of it.”

    We didn’t talk about it again.

    When I first saw this book, I think I died a little inside because of the cover. I didn’t hate

    like I hated

    or (*shudder*)

    , but when there’s a little girl on the cover of a book, looking all innocent, it’s like a movie with the word “Education” in the title. You just know you’re in for a published trip to the psychiatrist’s couch. Kiddy-sex and soul-searching. I’m not saying people shouldn’t tell their stories (I mean, look at me, I’m all up in your website telling my stories), but I do think people should get a handle on what their story is before they try to tell it. Or at least before they make me read it. Sorry, that’s kind of asshole-ish of me to say, but I just think a lot of books with innocent little girls on the cover are really arrogant. They have this sense that since some man did something horrifying, everything that women do, including dancing around a fire with girlfriends or taking exotic lovers, is just part of the loving circle of nature’s healing. I am such a fan of women, and so I take it personally when we look like morons.

    This book has absolutely nothing in common with its cover. I haven’t written a review of it before because I think it is a perfect book, and how do you review a perfect book? I’m like Wayne and Garth when they meet Alice Cooper. This book is my Alice Cooper. I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s Alice Cooper, but to me this is exactly what a book should be. Everything about the book is simple, concise, and action-packed. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry. The people are incredible, but deep and smart and human. In some ways, I think this book is the Great American Story, but it’s the story none of us talk about and all of us live. In other ways, the book is so specific and personal to the Walls family that I never would have imagined the stories if I had not been told them.

    and

    , two of the wisest people I have read, both ask when and how women will be able to tell stories without being self-conscious that they are women. How can we write, or even live, not as reactions to men, but as separate masters of our own experiences? I don’t know where the genders are on the space/time continuum of respecting each other, and I think there are probably gender-related specifics to any story (maybe that’s just natural and not even bad), but there is something about this book that is just human and strong. It is compassionate and unflinching. Oh, I hate adjectives. Just, read the first chapter of this book, and if you don’t think it’s compelling, don’t keep reading because it’s probably not for you.

    My family was nomadic, like Jeannette Walls’s family, but, like I say, all of her stories, and my stories, are unique. When I last lived with my parents, it struck me that we never really understand other people’s relationships with each other. I grew up, probably as many of us did, thinking that my parents never really got along and that my mom was a victim of my dad’s anger and wild scheming. But, later, I realized they probably both got something that I never understood out of their relationship. I think a lot of this book is about how we know the people we are close to and, also, never really do – how it is useless to hold other people to our own standards of what love or responsibility looks like. But, still, it is about holding each other responsible. Or, maybe the book is just about her family with no real moral lesson at all. Walls is so loyal to her stories in an almost scientific way. None of the adult outrage that contaminates so many stories of children creeps into Walls’s. She tells you what happened, and maybe how she felt about it at the time, but she doesn’t impose emotion on the reader. Here’s just a small part (well, actually, half . . . I couldn’t resist) of the first chapter to give you a little taste:

    It’s been a while since I read this book, so a lot of the stories aren’t fresh in my mind, but some are so vivid to me that I think of them whenever I see a trash can or think of the desert. In high school, I thought that American history was the most boring topic imaginable. Then, in college, I took a class called the History of Women in the U.S., and I realized that I think the history of industry and conquest is mind-numbing, but the history of actual people is riveting.

    is a real, honest history (or as honest as histories can be) of people in America. It is so close to me and so foreign in just the way this country is.

    It is also, in a way, a tribute to family oral histories. My dad has a . . . loose . . . relationship with the truth, as I’ve probably mentioned on this site before. In the past couple of years, every time I see one of my siblings, we sit around and tell stories from my dad or about my dad, trying to weed out what actually happened, what got a nice polish in the story factory, and what is an outright lie. I get that same feeling from this book – of siblings sitting around and saying, “Do you remember . . .” and “You weren’t there this one time . . .” or “No, that’s just what Dad

    happened, what actually happened was . . .” I’m sure someday, my siblings and I will put together a history of our own, since every one of us seems to have inherited the storytelling gene. Whatever I write will be in some way inspired by this book.

  • Fabian

    The warning is this: If you are going to become parents you must simply forego being bohemian. Otherwise your children might grow up to be super successful & you will end up eating trash off dark alleyways...

    Peculiar upbringings are what memoirs are made of! We saw this in the Frank McCourt gray & sad "Angela's Ashes", & even more so in any of the Augusten Burroughs books (mainly "Running with Scissors"). When memoirs are like this, invigoratingly Roald Dahlesque in painting pictures

    The warning is this: If you are going to become parents you must simply forego being bohemian. Otherwise your children might grow up to be super successful & you will end up eating trash off dark alleyways...

    Peculiar upbringings are what memoirs are made of! We saw this in the Frank McCourt gray & sad "Angela's Ashes", & even more so in any of the Augusten Burroughs books (mainly "Running with Scissors"). When memoirs are like this, invigoratingly Roald Dahlesque in painting pictures of past predicaments... and obviously the survival of the protagonist, the reader reads on. No matter how bad you have it, someone somewhere sometime probably had it worse.

    The Walls children (3 of the 4, at least) become inspired by their nomadic parents, wanting to be so unlike their progenitors that they turn their lives around. Here is testament of someone living way under the poverty level in modern times & getting out alive & a smarter woman for it. That she appreciates it and maintains a smile is the very heart of this nonfic gem.

    PS--Can't wait to see the movie.

    (On DVD.)

  • Raeleen Lemay

    This was really good! Difficult to read at times, but a marvellous book.

  • Emily May

    Now I get why people like this memoir so much.

    Though it is a memoir and a true story, both the writing style and the way Walls reminisces about her childhood

    . My favourite non-fiction books are those that don't lose the compelling flow of a good fiction book - that still pull you into another world and life, dragging you along for the ride. This is one of those.

    I especially liked reading about Walls' complex and conflicting thoughts about her parents and ch

    Now I get why people like this memoir so much.

    Though it is a memoir and a true story, both the writing style and the way Walls reminisces about her childhood

    . My favourite non-fiction books are those that don't lose the compelling flow of a good fiction book - that still pull you into another world and life, dragging you along for the ride. This is one of those.

    I especially liked reading about Walls' complex and conflicting thoughts about her parents and childhood. When she's writing about her youth, she writes with the rose-tinted glasses of a young girl who loves her family; as she grows, she begins to see the shadows of reality creeping in - her father's alcoholism, her mother's selfish behaviour, the lack of food in the cupboards as a parental failure and not a normality.

    And, through it all, she still loves her parents. She remembers her father as an intelligent man full of fantastical stories, and her mother as a spirited artist. It's interesting, though, how differently I felt toward them.

    Normally, a convincing story has me feeling the same way as the narrator, but even though I could understand Walls's love for her parents, I despised them for being selfish and neglectful. I hated them for allowing a 3 year old to use the stove (and cause herself serious burns). I felt extreme anger, not love and understanding, towards them.

    But that's not a criticism.

    is a beautifully-written, emotional read. A true bildungsroman, full of dark and happy times.

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