“The Glass Castle”

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls  glass castle

Yes, memoirs of dysfunctional families and abused children are quite popular among adults now as they are among teens. “The Glass Castle” could be grouped into this genre, but it is set apart by the fact that Walls’ parents are not overtly abusive—they seem to love their children—but they are so neglectful that it defies imagination. How the Walls children managed to grow up and escape a life of poverty is a great read.

Walls’ father was an alcoholic and her mother was an (unsuccessful) artist. Both are completely impractical and have no parenting skills. They allow the kids to do as they please and to raise themselves. Jeannette severely burns herself when she is three because she catches fire trying to make herself a hotdog. The dangerous mix of children and fire still doesn’t sink in for the parents, and there are several close encounters throughout the book.

Mrs. Walls has a teaching certificate, but is rarely employed because she doesn’t like the routine or getting up in the morning. She has an excuse for everything about her life and nothing seems to bother her too much. If the family doesn’t have the money to feed its pets, then all the better—the pets are learning survival skills. Rex Walls is very intelligent, but he always has pie-in-the-sky schemes and resorts to alcohol and arguing on the job, which routinely get him fired. He seems to make more money playing poker than he does working. Thus the kids have to learn survival skills just as the pets do. They sleep on cardboard boxes and cover themselves with a plastic raft to keep the rain off when the roof leaks. They scrounge for food and eat out of the schoolyard trashcans. If the family accumulates too much debt—or just gets the itch to move—they ‘skedaddle.’ They don’t pay to have the garbage collected, and it ends up in a large hole the kids had dug in the yard—a hole that was supposed to be for the fountain of the ‘glass castle,’ a dream house that Rex is always modifying plans for and never building.

While the kids are young, they are able to believe in the glass castle of their future. Their father has sometimes delightful ways of disguising his negligence—such as the Christmas when the kids will get no presents, but he takes each of them outside to name a one of the stars in the night sky as their own. However, ultimately, the children must place themselves in reality.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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