Every family is unique. Each family has its own living arrangements, inside jokes, schedules, rules, quirks, among other significant qualities. In the case of the highly eccentric Walls family, uniqueness reaches a whole new level. American writer and journalist Jeanette Walls has what most would consider an unfortunate and unconventional childhood, with a few redeeming qualities, which she shares in her award winning and best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.
Walls begins by telling readers what inspired her to write about her family. After starting a life in New York, Walls sees her mom digging in a dumpster. She quickly turns away out of embarrassment. Later, Walls approaches her mother asking how she’s supposed to tell people about her parents’ lifestyle. Her mother replies, “Just tell the truth. That’s simple enough.”
Walls’ father, a dreamer, a hot-tempered alcoholic and a conspiracy theorist, comes from a very poor family. He has trouble holding a job and envisions one day building a “glass castle” for his entire family. Her mother, however, comes from a wealthy family but chooses to live as a free spirit with her husband and children, wandering around the country and taking very few responsibilities. The four children are without enough food, adequate shelter, proper education and many other resources because of their parents’ choice to live a nomadic lifestyle, running away from financial obligations and any potential ties. While it’s true, they do not provide physical resources for their children, the parents do, however, give them qualities of lasting value – a deep appreciation for literature, confidence, gratitude for small things, and most importantly love.
Personally, I’m still uncertain about my feelings concerning the way these parents raised their children. After all, how can I judge a person’s circumstance if I’ve never been in the situation myself? Clearly, Walls believes that choosing to live this way is not healthy, but she explains so with grace, forgiving her parents for their shortcomings.
Walls’ journalistic style of writing is easy to read and steers clear from the “poor pitiful me, my life was terrible” spiel authors sometimes get wrapped up into. Every adversity in this memoir is presented diplomatically, as Walls simply provides the facts and details without eliciting sympathy. Her story encourages readers to consider the lives of other families – their struggles, plans, failures, strengths, hopes. Walls did not allow her circumstances to define what the rest of her life would look like. She stepped out and chose to educate herself and accepted life’s responsibilities while at the same time applying the great life lessons and experiences her parents did give her.
Many individuals are lucky and come from stable, supportive families, while others haven’t been so lucky and have had to do more work to be where they are today, like Jeanette Walls. There is, however, something shared by both groups, and that is the opportunity given by choices – choices to let go of past failures, forgive people of their faults and enjoy the moments of today. I know, I know, this is easier said than done. If Walls had decided to hold bitterness and resentment against her parents for the rest of her life, this would have ultimately diminished her quality of life. Who really wants to live miserably? No one, I hope.
For those looking for a refreshing read of hope and redemption, The Glass Castle will not disappoint. In fact, I don’t believe there’s a better book to start a brand new year. Here’s to letting go of the past and enjoying right now!
Book reviewer Rachel LeCompte is a library lover who is constantly looking to books for entertainment and insight. She thinks reading about the “tough stuff” opens our minds and helps us appreciate the small things.
Author Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memior “The Glass Castle” is a refreshing story of hope and redemption.