By Alexa Schmidt, Staff Writer
When I think of my childhood, the first couple of things that come to mind are bedtime stories, playdates and a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. I know I was lucky in that I grew up in a stable home filled with whatever I needed. However, the same cannot be said for everyone, especially Jeannette Walls. She turned from a scrappy girl into a successful woman by working hard, and who, in no way had an easy time growing up. Her family was dysfunctional to say the least, and Jeannette bared all in her memoir.
The book starts with Walls taking a taxi in New York City to an event. Along the way, she sees her homeless mother rooting through trash on the street. Although Walls knows her parents have been homeless for years, she looks back on how she grew up and how her parent’s choices really affected her.
One of Walls’s first memories took place when she was three years old. She was making dinner for herself when her dress caught on fire and burned her. After staying at the hospital for a couple of days, her father, Rex Walls, decided enough was enough and did the “skedaddle.” He whisked Walls away and never paid the bill.
Since then, Rex, his wife and four kids would move from desert town to desert town, settling in for as long as he could hold a job. At one point, they stayed in Nevada, where Walls was finally starting to get comfortable. After getting in trouble with the law, they leave in the middle of the night and head to another location.
They drive to Phoenix where Rose Mary inherited her mother’s house. This is the family’s first glimpse of stability, but all good things must come to an end. They then live with Rex’s mother, who sexually abuses Walls’s brother, Brian. Based on Rex’s reaction, it seemed like he was abused by his mother as well.
Rex and Rose Mary eventually buy their own house, a literal shack, with no indoor plumbing or heating and a leaky roof. These years are filled with extreme poverty, hunger and desperation. Rex used money for the sole purpose of alcohol, and Rose Mary seemed unfazed by the critical conditions they were living in. Walls and her sister started hatching a plan to escape their family and head to New York City. They picked up multiple jobs and saved money. Along the way came multiple setbacks, but the girls accomplish their dream and move to the big city.
Here, they find success and happiness. The family drifts apart until Rex’s death, riddled by years of smoking and drinking. Walls recounts the good and the bad times with her father. Although he never gave her the glass castle or the man he promised he’d become, Walls thrived on the reckless freedom he gave her, and she will always remember that. She comes to peace with her parents and her past.
I chose this book because I was completely humbled by Walls’s recount of her childhood. She became a resilient person and never let her childhood define her. It amazed me that Walls was comfortable enough to deliver this raw and emotional story to an unforgiving audience. Reading about some of the things she endured and managed to overcome is empowering and hopeful. “The Glass Castle” a poignant story, and makes us, the readers, reflect on our own relationships with our families.