Henry -Since I was born 16 years ago, my biggest claim to fame has been winning the state geography bee in 2009. I run cross country and track for Seton-La Salle High School. I play trombone in the school’s marching band and am a member of the Mock Trial and Academic Games teams. I like to read the Greeks and Romans, and I love opera.
The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir written by journalist Jeannette Walls. Before I start my review in earnest, let me caution that this memoir (which was not nearly as boring as I had always assumed memoirs must be) was written for an adult audience, in both senses of the word. Nevertheless, despite its probably intended audience, I found The Glass Castle singularly well-suited to readers of my own generation. This memoir is the story of its author’s childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood. Starting when the author was only three years old living in a trailer park with her parents, older sister, and younger brother, in southern Arizona, burning herself with the fire she was using to cook hot dogs by herself. The author is taken to the hospital, where she nearly dies from the burns, and she is smuggled out of the hospital by her father (who is opposed to the “antiseptic” atmosphere) before her treatment can be completed. The first half of the book follows pretty much this same trajectory, but with different backgrounds and other variations, as the family wanders nomadically around the western United States. The family has an unspoken rule that every family member must pretend that they are on some fantastic adventure (instead of fleeing creditors, the actual reason for their wanderings), and, despite the fact that it is clearly not an adventure in the positive sense of the word, I could not help feeling a sense of adventure reading this first part.
The second part of the book begins when the family moves to Welch, West Virginia, where the father grew up and where his parents still live. The narrator is about ten years old at this point, and as she and her siblings grow up, the theme of the memoir moves from the adventurous feel of the first part to a sense of being trapped in the poverty of the Appalachian back country and the struggle to escape it. The author’s older sister, Lori, wants to move to New York City to become an artist, she herself wants to go into journalism, and the two decide to help each other leave West Virginia for Manhattan. The second part describes their efforts to make a new life for themselves and their siblings in their attempts to get to New York and their experiences once they get there.
I hope very few people can fully relate to the things Ms. Walls goes through. I, thank Heaven, certainly cannot directly relate to the poverty and abuse described in The Glass Castle. However, I most certainly can (and suspect that many other of my contemporaries can as well) relate to the desire to be independent, to go away and to prove to the world. In this sense, it is almost a “coming -of-age” -type book, but it is subtle enough and not too overt to feel pandering or unpleasant. All in all, a truly enjoyable read.