The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls, tells the story of Walls’ childhood, growing up with a mom and a dad who refused to live ordinary lives. Moving from place to place they somehow managed to scrape by as a family despite neither of the parents working for a living. It’s a bit like reading what I imagine to be a very, very disturbing child welfare case. The fact that the Walls children, for the most part, all came out okay in the end is a testament to the strength of the human spirit if ever there was one. You want to hate her parents for neglecting their children and basically forcing them to fend for themselves, but Walls writes them with such love that you can’t help but feel that, despite everything, this is a family that took care of each other when it mattered most.
Reading the memoir, it’s almost hard to believe the stories could be true. It begins with a fire, literally, and ends with a flickering candle representing both the calm and the chaos of Walls’ life. I became engrossed with the families journey across the U.S. as they traveled from town to town, wreaking havoc and bailing when things got tough. They finally settle in West Virginia for a while and it’s there that the children begin to see that their upbringing was unusual to say the least. As they try to fit in at school, they realize that other kids don’t need to worry about where their food is coming from or how they’re going to heat their homes in the winter. It’s here that the kids begin to see that they don’t have to live the way that they do; however, getting out isn’t easy and they suffer several setbacks along the way.
Just when you think they’re free, the parents show up again, deciding to live homeless in New York City, so they can be near their children. I will definitely never look at a homeless person the same after reading this memoir. This is a story about strength and individuality. It’s a story about what it means to be a family without conforming to societies idea of what that means. You have to read it to believe it and I highly recommend that you do!