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The Glass Castle [Paperback]

Jeannette Walls
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 17 2006
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 nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town—and the family—Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Freelance writer Walls doesn't pull her punches. She opens her memoir by describing looking out the window of her taxi, wondering if she's "overdressed for the evening" and spotting her mother on the sidewalk, "rooting through a Dumpster." Walls's parents—just two of the unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book—were a matched pair of eccentrics, and raising four children didn't conventionalize either of them. Her father was a self-taught man, a would-be inventor who could stay longer at a poker table than at most jobs and had "a little bit of a drinking situation," as her mother put it. With a fantastic storytelling knack, Walls describes her artist mom's great gift for rationalizing. Apartment walls so thin they heard all their neighbors? What a bonus—they'd "pick up a little Spanish without even studying." Why feed their pets? They'd be helping them "by not allowing them to become dependent." While Walls's father's version of Christmas presents—walking each child into the Arizona desert at night and letting each one claim a star—was delightful, he wasn't so dear when he stole the kids' hard-earned savings to go on a bender. The Walls children learned to support themselves, eating out of trashcans at school or painting their skin so the holes in their pants didn't show. Buck-toothed Jeannette even tried making her own braces when she heard what orthodontia cost. One by one, each child escaped to New York City. Still, it wasn't long before their parents appeared on their doorsteps. "Why not?" Mom said. "Being homeless is an adventure."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Walls, who spent years trying to hide her childhood experiences, allows the story to spill out in this remarkable recollection of growing up. From her current perspective as a contributor to MSNBC online, she remembers the poverty, hunger, jokes, and bullying she and her siblings endured, and she looks back at her parents: her flighty, self-indulgent mother, a Pollyanna unwilling to assume the responsibilities of parenting, and her father, troubled, brilliant Rex, whose ability to turn his family's downward-spiraling circumstances into adventures allowed his children to excuse his imperfections until they grew old enough to understand what he had done to them--and to himself. His grand plans to build a home for the family never evolved: the hole for the foundation of the "The Glass Castle," as the dream house was called, became the family garbage dump, and, of course, a metaphor for Rex Walls' life. Shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection, about parents and about the strength of family ties--for both good and ill. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book, Five stars :) Jan. 22 2007
By Laura
I started to read this book, and I just couldn't put it down. Jeannette Walls is one of those rare storytellers where you feel as if you are right there experiencing everything with her. It is an enthralling read, and the worst thing about it is how it draws you in so much that you want to do little else but sit there until you reach the very last page. I highly reccomend this novel!
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars People who live in certain houses . .. July 11 2007
By P.C.
Of the three incredibly entertaining and uplifting reads I've recently come across, THE GLASS CASTLE was by far the best. Second place goes to MIDDLESEX by Eugenides and third to BARK OF THE DOGWOOD. I enjoyed reading in GLASS CASTLE about the child's father, as a good man. He bought new bicycles for his children and took them to the zoo. He also developed a love of learning in his children. Wells writes very vividly about what it felt like sleeping in cardboard boxes, looking though trash cans and dumpsters for food and eating nothing but popcorn for many days. She also lived in a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. She developed a sense of resourcefulness of being so poor. She made her own set of braces to straighten out of coat hangers and rubber bands. She also took a job at the age of 13 at a jewerly store to help make ends meet. Wells discovers a love of journalism in high school which became one of the turning points in her life. Her love of writing led to a career as a journalist in New York City. Jeannette Walls has worked hard to achieve the life she now has. The Glass Castle is a touching, inspirational, entertaining memoir of a courageous successful woman, but try it for yourself! Also highly recommended: MIDDLESEX by Eugenides and WHITE OLEANDER.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A plot so crazy you'd think it wasn't real! Aug. 26 2007
By Reader
This book will keep you suprised over and over again. Just when you think you've read all the crazy things Jeanette Walls throws in some more! A good little book that is great to remind oneself about what is and isn't important in one's life. Will get you thinkin'!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Glass Castle: a reflection of a reality Feb. 27 2007
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
A powerfully, and beautifully, written memoir which describes what is, strives for what could be but does not get lost in the chasm between.

It would be difficult to read this book and not to react to it strongly. A family which is, by most measures, dysfunctional: two chronological adults who need more parenting than their four biological offspring.

But this is not told as the 'shock, horror' story of appalling upbringing. It combines hope and courage with the fear of the unknown. And, ultimately the acceptance of what is.

'Just tell the truth' said Mom. 'That's simple enough.'

Highly recommended

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A top-notch memoir Aug. 6 2007
I have always enjoyed memoirs and have read several that were quite memorable, but "The Glass Castle" tops them all. I started the book in the afternoon and had it finished within a few hours because I simply could not put it down for any length of time. Besides having led an extraordinary life, Jeannette Walls has an impeccable way with words. She evoked frustration, shock, joy, and anger in me through recounting the often bizarre circumstances of her past, but she never evokes or encourages pity at any time throughout the book. I felt satisfied when I came to the end of "The Glass Castle", which doesn't happen very often and is a real treat. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, regardless of whether or not you enjoy memoirs.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By S Svendsen TOP 500 REVIEWER
Dysfunctional hardly describes Jeannette Wallis's family environment. The childhood and adolescence she describes must have readers repeatedly cringing and shaking their heads. But Walls knows how to lift up her narrative to overcome the gloom. Yes, even in the most bizarre, painful and hopeless situations she portrays ironically her parents' quirky attitudes about life in general and parental roles in particular. Most remarkable is her own incredible tenacity and resourcefulness to overcome her own and her siblings hardships time after time.

As unlikely as it sounds Wells has managed to write an entertaining memoir about children caught in a web of parental irresponsibility which includes physical violence, verbal abuse, addictions and starvation. The four children are often left to fend for themselves but stick together and devise plans and methods to survive. They have an unstable father whose pride, delusions of grandeur and alcoholic rages hijack his ability to function responsibly. However, his intellectual interests, zany humour and sporadic sense of paternal and spousal duty--and even love--provide sufficient positive influence to keep his family intact until the children devise ways to leave. They have a mother who abstains from alcohol but suffers from bipolar extremes of activity or lethargy, and of encouragement or melancholia. She is nonchalantly self-reliant but disorganized, failing to accept the reality of her and her children's predicament and her husband's deficiencies. She is compulsively creative, drawing and painting even in dire and chaotic circumstances.

Jeannette Walls demonstrates a unique ability to describe her life's afflictions tragicomically. This book is never boring. Readers will be left with a lingering impression that "hope can sustain us and lives eternally for those who have the fortitude to believe."
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Sensitizer
This book is a real sensitizer to the feelings, thoughts and plight of neglected - but resiliant - children. I felt a great deal - mostly inspiration. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Eleanor Cowan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
Reality greater than fiction. Hard to imagine that "intelligent" people could live in such conditions. The book is easy to read and keeps you interested throughout. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Carole G. in Montreal
4.0 out of 5 stars Great but not perfect
It really makes you think. I gave 4 stars as it failed to captivate me into the reading like other books do.
Published 2 months ago by Histrogeek
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
I love memoirs in general !!! This was an amazing one especially for the fact that it seems so unreal. Read more
Published 2 months ago by simonado
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Ordered this book from advice from a friend , amazing read. Really puts ones life into perspective. Thank you to Jeannette walls for sharing her story
Published 2 months ago by sue
3.0 out of 5 stars The Glass Castle: A Memoir
I would not recommend this book, it is too depressing. I don't know how the children kept their spirits up for so long
Published 3 months ago by Pauline Siscoe
5.0 out of 5 stars The best memoir I have read in recent recollection
I came to this book because my fiancee recommended it to me a couple of years ago and I'm just now getting around to reading it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rob Slaven
4.0 out of 5 stars The Glass Castle
I thought it was a very good read. I had seen Jeannette Walls interviewed on TV many years ago so I knew a little bit about her life but I didn't realize the extent of how poor... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Irene Russell Thornton
5.0 out of 5 stars So good - my whole family read it!
Such a good book for so many reasons. We can't wait to see the movie! Good material for my daughter's book report too - so much to explore here!
Published 4 months ago by Firestar
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't stop reading it!
I really loved this book. The upbringing the author had to endure was terrible, but the story of how she overcomes a very poor childhood is amazing. Read more
Published 4 months ago by amcs76
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