Since SO many people have read and reviewed Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle, I'm going to format my review a little differently than normal. This was my choice for our April book club, and I'm going to answer a few of the questions I found on a reading guide at BookBrowse.
(For those of you not familiar with her story, Jeannette Walls grew up in extreme poverty with 2 sisters and a brother. Her father was extremely intelligent, but an alcoholic who couldn't hold a job, and her mother was artistic and had no desire to work or raise children).
1. Though it portrays an incredibly hardscrabble life, The Glass Castle is never sad or depressing. Discuss the tone of the book, and how you think that Walls achieved that effect? Walls simply tells about her childhood without getting emotional. She doesn't go into lots of detail about her feelings or how it wasn't fair that she had to go without food, new clothes, etc. Her positive attitude is very apparent in the way she describes a situation, even a terrible situation, then she simply moves on without dwelling on the negatives.
2. What character traits--both good and bad--do you think Jeannette inherited from her parents? And how do you think those traits shaped Jeannette's life? I can only think of positive traits that Jeannette inherited--to look at the bright side or how to improve a bad situation; to treat others kindly because you have no idea what they are going through or have gone through; and to be innovative with what you have.
3. Jeannette's mother insists that, no matter what, "life with your father was never boring" (p.288). What kind of man was Rex Walls? What were his strenghths and weaknesses, his flaws and contradictions? One of the most difficult things for me to grasp in this book was how incredibly intelligent Rex was, and yet he wasted away his life. He could have done great things and made enough money for his family to be completely comfortable. Rex very obviously had a rough upbringing as well--his mother was a horrible woman--but he was unable to make something of himself like his own children did. Though he obviously loved his children, he just could not get it together, even though he tried. At times I felt sorry for him, and at other times, his actions made me want to throw the book across the room.
4. Though The Glass Castle is brimming with unforgettable stories, which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, the funniest? The most touching story was one Christmas Eve, when there was no money, and Rex took his kids, one by one, to sit out in the desert and pick out a star of their very own. The special time spent with their father really meant a lot to the kids, even if they didn't receive any toys or gifts that year. I also found it really neat how Jeannette, Lori and Brian all worked together and stood up for each other. Though there are many shocking stories, the incident with Oz, the piggy bank, upset me the most. I don't want to give anything away, but for those of you who have read it--I'm sure you agree! I was also completely disgusted with whatwhat Jeannette's father put her through the night they "worked together" to win some money at pool.
The Glass Castle completely opened my eyes to what true poverty can be like. I really had no idea about the living conditions some people experience every day. Reading about Jeannette's childhood and parents made me even more thankful for my own family and how I was raised. The fact that she had some terrible experiences, yet she still stood by her parents and her family, and she is now successful and happy is quite inspirational! I won't be forgetting this book for a very long time!
Date completed: April 12, 2009
Number of pages: 288