The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle

A Memoir

Large Print - 2009
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#1 BookSense Reading Group Pick.

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a penetrating look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who hated anything to do with domesticity.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

"This gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection, about parents and about the strength of family ties - for both good and ill." - Booklist, starred.

"Nothing short of spectacular." - Entertainment Weekly

Publisher: Thorndike, Me. : Center Point Pub., 2009, c2005
ISBN: 9781602855571
Branch Call Number: LT 921 WAL
Characteristics: 446 p. (large print) ;,23 cm


From Library Staff

This book is amazing. If you thought you knew what "poor" means, read this book. Recommended by Colleen.

From the critics

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Apr 11, 2019

I know my comment is contrary to everything written below, but I am not writing this to be contrarian. Rather because I think my disagreement is valid and important.

I enjoyed reading this book very much. But about half-way through I started realizing that this memoir is very lop-sided. This is entirely a self-interested memoir. The author apparently believes that she and her siblings are remarkable because 1. they brought themselves up solely by their bootstraps, and 2. they had an unusually dysfunctional family, and 3. their parents' parenting philosophy was unusually dysfunctional.

I don't agree with any of those assessments. To start with, both parents clearly loved each other and their children. This is already way more than many children get from their families.
Next, all 4 children were given the opportunity to bond with and support their siblings. Again, many children lose their siblings when they are taken into "the system."
Next, these parents were highly intelligent and educated. They home-schooled their children to such a high level that the children always placed above their age group when they were tested in normal schools.
In short, the family was far from completely dysfunctional.
Yes, the parents dressed the kids in thrift-store clothing. But nowadays this is recognized as an ecologically sound practice. I think it is very telling that the author's vaunted "first good job" was to write the "society" column: i.e., which rich people wore which luxury clothes, to show off at which "society" event. Not something I think deserves much praise. Certainly a valid reaction to her impoverished childhood, but it is a job that reinforces very shallow values.
I have many more objections, but would just like to say that this book does a great disservice to the parents. And I will note that one of the most functional siblings did not want her sister to publish this book. Perhaps because she doesn't agree that the parents were so awful and the children were so special?
2 final thoughts:
1. There is no universal definition of a completely functional family. Was your childhood perfect, were your parents perfect examples of selfless, omnipotent, emotionally balanced people? If you are a parent, have you never made a selfish decision? Do we not believe alcoholism is a disease, exacerbated by poverty?
2. How much sacrifice do parents owe their children? The mother was a very hard-working, albeit self-taught artist. Should she have had to sacrifice that completely because she had children? We venerate artists like Vincent Van Gogh, who doggedly plugged away at his art without ever earning more than pittance. Do only "great artists" get applauded for their hard work? How do you know if you are a "great artist" who should keep on working in the face of poverty and anonymity? Is this perhaps a gender issue? Men can be unpaid artists, but if women have children, they can't?

Mar 26, 2019

A skilfully written memoir of a complicated family with hidden talent, mental deficiency and toughtless neglect on the parents' part. It is a wonder that the children who practically raised themselves, became well functioning adults. It is written without a trace of self pity. An excellent book for discussion about social, psychological, educational issues. I was thinking about it for weeks after I read it.

Mar 15, 2019

One of the most readable memoirs of dysfunction I've ever read. Funny, tender, solemn and true. Four children raised, sort of, by a father with a "little bit of a drinking situation" and a Mother who prefers being homeless because "it's an adventure".
I am a slow reader and usually need the full borrowing period to finish up a book or two but I knocked this one out in 3 days.

Feb 23, 2019

Her story gave me a lot to think about. Along with other such memoirs about escaping deleterious family situations---Hillbilly Elegy and Educated are two popular ones right now---I'm fascinated and repulsed by the lunatic father. Despite some genuinely admirable qualities, Rex Walls just can't get past his paranoid and grandiose delusions. That his daughter Jeanne managed to discover reality and escape the fantasy world of her parents is a testament to the power of her own intelligence, of enlightened reading, and of timely mentorship.

Jan 13, 2019

This book was extremely well written, backed up by the fact that it is non-fiction, it was incredibly detailed and had little rambling and run-on. I am impressed the author was able to remember her past so even when she was little. This book really made me feel I was in the moment and it was like the author was taking me into the past to watch her history. The author does a really good job of dividing the timeline among the chapters. I find that it is very difficult for me to feel that she left out any details.
This is the kind of thought-provoking book that all of us should read. It makes you think of your own life and how you want to live it. In the book, the parents seemed to be poor, nomadic, and uneducated, but when you read into the book it becomes apparent that the parents love their children more than anything, but they have their own way of showing it. Some parents may use a materialistic approach to express love to their kids, but this family does not. Instead, they make tons of sacrifices for their kids and I think that this is the way that families should live their lives. I rated this a 10/10 because it just felt so real.

Dec 17, 2018

A highly entertaining memoir. I loved reading it. The first half is about the family's life in the west desert areas of the US (Nevada, California, and Arizona). The second half is about them in Welch, West Virginia, and later New York. The large print version of the book isn't missing anything except the picture of Jeannette's parents on their wedding day, which the regular version of the book includes.

"One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. 'You'd be destroying what makes it special,' she said. 'It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.'"
The book (and therefore the author's life) wouldn't be interesting without everything that this author went through. Her parents didn't have much money, but they were smart and talented and resourceful. It's not like the parents intended to neglect or abuse their kids. They were doing things the way they thought was right. And despite their poverty and hardships, their kids grew up to be intelligent, strong, hard working, and successful. The kids didn't wallow in self-pity and hopelessness. They learned from their parents' mistakes and chose to make something of their lives.

The mother says about her homelessness in NY: "It's sort of the city's fault. They make it too easy to be homeless. If it was really unbearable, we'd do something different."
I think that's a good thing to keep in mind when trying to help the poor. Because helping them too much just encourages them to stay right where they are and not try to improve their lives at all. Jeanette's parents could have improved their lives if they wanted to, but they chose not to. The father was addicted to alcohol, and the mother was addicted to living a life of laziness and leisure, painting. Without these addictions, they would've been much better parents.
It's easy to look down on them, but look at yourself in the mirror before you judge them. Do you drink alcohol? Then you're choosing to take the chance that you might end up exactly like Jeannette's drunk father. Once you're addicted, it's hard to stop. So before you get addicted, make the smarter choice by choosing not to drink at all. Otherwise you're a hypocrite. My father was an alcoholic too (and died from it), and that's why I choose never to drink. Alcohol ruins lives, and this book is just one of many examples of that fact.

ArapahoeSarahD Dec 12, 2018

This family, despite their flaws, captured my heart. It's a story you really must read.

Dec 08, 2018

Great story. Awesome author
Need more books like these

StephanieOne Dec 06, 2018

I could not put this one down. An excellent memoir that shows the resilience of four small children trapped in a bizarre life with an alcoholic father who is constantly between jobs while trying to "invent" things, and a spaced out and self-centered artist mother who seems to feed of the chaos her husband provides. Seeing the author and her siblings try over and over again to survive the unbelievably harsh conditions their parents force them to live in was heart-breaking at times. I found myself cheering on these kids, while at the same time wanting hit their parents over the head with a cartoon mallet to knock some sense into them. A truly inspirational story.

Dec 03, 2018

This is great book, finished it quickly.

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Dec 17, 2018

bell5133 thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

Dec 08, 2018

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May 18, 2017

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Add a Summary
Oct 09, 2018

The Glass Castle is a story about the author's rather dysfunctional childhood and how she, along with her siblings, overcame challenges from childhood through adulthood. From the very first page, she is able to capture exactly how she felt in pivotal moments perfectly, allowing the reader to feel exactly as she felt - embarrassed, sad, afraid, and, in some cases, happy.

As children, the Walls took care of themselves. Their parents, under the premise of making them strong, often did questionable and downright abusive things. The story is spread across the author's entire childhood and ventures into her adult life, and it's an amazing tale of how her perception of her mother and father changes throughout the years. Despite her troubles, the love she felt for her parents never faltered.

Anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional household or with an alcoholic parent will be able to relate to the way the author simultaneously loves, doubts, and sometimes loathes her father. Anyone who grew up with a self-absorbed mother will relate to the way the author explains her own mother's eccentric, self-involved, and somehow still loving ways. It's one of the most relatable books I've ever read.

May 18, 2017

The story revolves mostly around the childhood of the author. It describes the nomadic lifestyle of the Walls and how the children have learned to grow without their parents' support. The Glass Castle is mainly telling the dysfunctional connections in this dysfunctional family.

Jun 19, 2015

A journalist remembers her challenging, unconventional and impoverished childhood & the family with whom she shared these challenges.

Bonavista May 06, 2011

I loved that she went through so much as a child and teenager but still held the faith the whole time and came out of it. I think, a better person for it.

carlakacz May 03, 2011

This was a very intriguing book to read, a glimpse into someones life that is almost unbelievable.

Feb 16, 2011

Remarkable memoir of resilence and redemption and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeanette's brillant and charismatic father catured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishones and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family. The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed and protected one another and eventually found their way to New York.Their parents followed them choosing to be homeless even as their children propsered.


Add Notices
Aug 04, 2017

Coarse Language: Jeanette's father does tend to cuss frequently.

May 18, 2017

Sexual Content: 2 somewhat sexual scenes in regards to the protagonist.


Add a Quote
May 18, 2017

"It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty." - Rose Mary Wells

Nov 17, 2014

"I'm not upset because I'll miss you," Mom said. "I'm upset because you get to go to New York and I'm stuck here. It's not fair."

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