Wednesday, July 26, 2017

[Book Review] The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Book Review of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When I suggested The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls to my office book club, I warned everyone that it would cover some tough subjects... But I had no idea that the topics would be incredibly hard to read. While the book was beautifully written, I had to keep setting it down and walking away.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic 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 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 prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing--a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

My thoughts:
As I said in my introduction, there were many really tough topics that may be triggering to some; lying, cheating, alcoholism, destructive violence, sexual assault, child neglect, et cetera.

Memoirs are so hard for me to review simply because their content is all true. Of course, all of the hardships that Jeannette went though shaped her into the person she became later in life and all that... But throughout the entire reading, I couldn't help but think how toxic the siblings childhood was. Sure, there was clearly love there as well, but a lot of it was just not okay.

It was so heartbreaking to see how the author excused all of the bad behavior when she discussed her childhood. Of course, as a child, she didn't know any better and she captured that past persona beautifully.

As the memoir progressed, I was very happy to see that Jeannette really began to grow and see how destructive their lifestyle was. I loved seeing her make positive life changes as she worked to improve her life. Closer to the end of the memoir, I will say that I was quite bummed that she didn't completely cut the toxic people from her life, but I can also understand why she didn't.

This memoir was beautifully written. Another issue that I usually have with memoirs is that they seem so choppy. But that was not the case here! The organization and flow was wonderful.

Even though the writing was beautiful, the content was very difficult. Many of the stories got my blood boiling! I couldn't make a guess as to how many times I set this book down and walked away because it was just too heavy for me. I mean, take just these stories and quotes for example:

  • Tossing a cat out on the side of the highway because it didn't like to travel. 
  • Driving through the desert trying to hit the pregnant mother with the car as she ran away. 
  • "For some reason, she didn't have it in her to say no to him. If she tried, he'd argue and wheedle and sulk and bully and plain wear her down. 
  • "But Mom," I said, "that ring could get us a lot of food." "That's true," Mom said, "but it could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is more vital than food."
  • "Eventually, even Mom acknowledged that I'd done all right. 'No one expected you to amount to much,' she told me. 'Lori was the smart one, Maureen the pretty one, and Brian the brave one. You never had much going for you except that you always worked hard.'"

My favorite parts of the book were the happy moments that the siblings had. Like the mattress catapult, the bike gifts, and even the river rat in the bedroom. I only wish we had gotten more upbeat stories to outweigh the more negative.

Favorite passages:
I wondered if all fire was related, like Dad said all humans were related, if the fire that had burned me that day while I cooked hot dogs was somehow connected to the fire I had flushed down the toilet and the fire burning at the hotel. I didn't have the answers to those questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes. 

That was the thing to remember about all monsters, Dad said: They love to frighten people, but the minute you stare them down, they turn tail and run.

"Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy," Mom told me. "You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more."

At times she'd be happy for days on end, announcing that she had decided to think only positive thoughts, because if you think positive thoughts, then positive things will happen to you. But the positive thoughts would give way to negative thoughts, and the negative thoughts seemed to swoop into her mind the way a big flock of black crows takes over the landscape, sitting thick in the trees and on the fence rails and lawns, staring at you in ominous silence.

...a fifteen-minute subway ride south and about half a dozen worlds away...

My final thoughts:
Definitely a worthwhile read, just personally not for me because it was so negative and upsetting. I gave this book four stars, but I would not pick it up again.

That all being said, I am really looking forward to seeing the movie starring Brie Larson!

Thanks for reading!
What is your favorite memoir? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below. 


  1. I read this for school two years ago, and maybe it's because we were solely looking through a transcendental lens, but the memoir didn't unsettle me too much. I know if I read it again, and really looked at how abusive and manipulative her family was, I would have to set it down a couple times just like you.

    1. Phew, yeah. It's amazing how books can show you different things at different times of your life. I can definitely see why this book is taught in schools! It's so wonderfully written!

  2. I've had this one on my shelf for quite a long time (years, many years), but haven't gotten around to it. I don't think I've picked up more than a couple of memoirs in my lifetime, but it's a different form of storytelling that I'd like to explore more. That being said, the subject matter does sound like I'd only be able to pick this one up once. Thank you for your thoughts!

    1. Yeah it was tough for sure! I'm personally not a huge fan of memoirs to begin with, so I don't think that helped.

  3. Oh wow Brie Larson's in a movie version? Interesting. And yeah this does look heavy, some of those passages you shared- yikes! Tossing a cat out, trying to hit the pregnant mom with a car (!!!)- good grief! I can see where this would be a tough read. I don't read a lot of memoirs but I can see where this would have a lot to offer, if you can get past the heavy parts. Nice review.

    1. Right?! It got insanely intense from time to time. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Lovely post! I LOVE that mug you have in that picture!! :)
    I also gave your Twitter a follow!

    - El @ El's Book Reviews

  5. I am so excited about the movie version (I LOVE Brie Larson), but I didn't realise it was based on a book! Now I'm gonna look out for the book. And despite the difficult topics it addresses, I think it's the kind of book I'll appreciate.

    Amy @ A Magical World Of Words

    1. I'd love to see what you think of the book if you get your hands on it!! :) Enjoy!

  6. Hi!

    Although it's not a memoir, I've just got to share how I've finished the book, The Lonely Hearts Hotel, and it covers a lot of really difficult subjects, albeit fiction, so I totally understand what you're saying here!


    1. I like a tough read every once in a while, but definitely not too many too close together. I'll have to check that one out! :)

  7. I've seen the promotional material for this film and thought it looked interesting, but didn't take a look at the book. Reading through your thoughts and some of the issues that crop up makes me realize this probably won't be a book I'd pick up. Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Yeah, it was so difficult to read! I'd love to hear what you think about the film if you end up watching it.