Reviewed by Ambrea
In her memoir, The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls tells of her and her siblings’ remarkable story of survival and resilience in a family that was unique as it was terrifyingly dysfunctional. Jeannette’s father was an intelligent, charismatic man with a drinking problem; her mother was an artist and a “free spirit” who chafed at the idea of taking responsibility for a family. Jeannette and her siblings learned to take care of themselves, even during the most trying—and frightening—moments of their lives.
I have to admit, I had a difficult time starting Walls’ memoir. It took months of coaxing and quiet motivating, before I finally gave in and picked up The Glass Castle. I was firmly entrenched in my romance novels and fantasy stories, and I didn’t want to burst my own bubble by reading about the real world. Moreover, I’d never read anything by Walls and, if I’m being honest with myself, I wasn’t sure I wanted to start reading her now. I mean, what if she was awful? I hated the idea of slogging through a poorly written memoir.
However, The Glass Castle is anything but poorly written. Walls is a phenomenal writer. As I settled in to read, I discovered she had an insightful, compelling voice and an incredible story to tell. Her memoir tackles difficult subjects—such as neglect, abuse, mental illness, homelessness, etc.—but Walls treats these things delicately. She recounts her life in such a way that you are able to see it through her eyes as she grew from a child into a young woman. Walls’ memoir is an unexpectedly compelling and hopeful story about survival. It’s a tragic, but ultimately satisfying read.
While I did enjoy The Glass Castle, I will note that this book also infuriated me and often made me want to chuck it across the room. According to the back cover, The Glass Castle is a memoir about “the intense love of a peculiar family.” Except I didn’t see it that way. I mean, when I was reading, I didn’t see loyalty (unless it was between the Jeannette and her siblings) and I didn’t see love and I didn’t see this quaint, peculiar family; I saw intense neglect, if not outright abuse, and child endangerment and alcoholism.
I understand Walls loved her father and I understand that her father, as much as he was capable, loved his children. However, I thought both her father and her mother were selfish, neglectful, and thoughtless to the health, well-being, and safety of their children. I have only to point out that the first chapter that Walls was severely burned as a child while trying to cook her own food. She was hungry and her mother wasn’t going to make her anything, so she did it on her own. She couldn’t have been more than five.
Or then there’s the incident where she was flung from a moving vehicle. Accident or not, that’s just reckless endangerment and it could have killed her. Or there’s also the chapter where she speaks about digging old food out of the trash cans at school, so she wouldn’t starve. All the while, her mother was squirrelling away food for herself and not bothering to feed her children when she obviously could.
I couldn’t stand it.
I liked The Glass Castle, but I was honestly disgusted by this book on so many levels. I couldn’t stand reading about how much Walls adored her father, only to have him disappoint her time after time. It’s heartbreaking as she comes to realize that the glass castle—her and her father’s shared dream—will never, ever become a reality.