The Glass Castle

“We called the kitchen the loose-juice room, because on the rare occasion that we had paid the electricity bill and had power, we’d get a wicked electric shock if we touched any damp or metallic surface in the room. The first time I got zapped, it knocked my breath out and left me twitching on the floor. We quickly learned that whenever we ventured into the kitchen, we need to wrap our hands in the driest socks or rags we could find. If we got a shock, we’d announce it to everyone else, sort of like giving a weather report. ‘Big jolt touching the stove today,’ we’d say. ‘Wear extra rags.'”

In her memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls recounts her life story beginning at her earliest memory (of setting herself on fire, age 3) and ending with her second marriage. Walls grew up in a troubled family. Her parents loved adventure, which made her childhood exciting, but they didn’t like the responsibilities that came with parenting and generally participating in society. Neither wanted to work or to take care of their kids. Thus, most of the time their children (Lori, Jeannette, Brian, and Maureen) were left to fend for themselves, attempting to make money themselves (and to stop their parents from stealing it). This is Jeannette’s story of growing up in and trying to escape from a family that is already falling apart.

Jeannette and the other children appeal to the reader immediately. They are adventurous and practical, wild and intelligent, as well as in desparate need of a better family situation. I developed an attachment all of them, but especially to Lori, the eldest child, who was a shy artist with a “bit of a sarcastic streak.” (“While almost all the other kids wore jeans, Converse sneakers, and T-shirts, she showed up at school in army boots, a white dress with red polka dots, and a jean jacket with dark poetry she’d painted on the back. The other kids threw bars of soap at her, pushed one another into her path, and wrote graffiti about her on the bathroom walls. In return, she cursed them out in Latin.”)

For some readers, this book may come off as unfamiliar and extremely disturbing. It was a very educational for me, since I live in a stable household and now realize that I don’t have any actual troubles. Walls, on the other hand, must deal with alcoholism, thievery, poverty, starvation, child abuse, and more. It was eye-opening  for me to learn what she had to put up with at such a young age, and–although I found parts of it slightly alarming–I am glad I read this book.

The Glass Castle is a wonderful memoir. It has lovable characters with real problems. I would recommend this book to anyone–just as long as they are somewhat comfortable with the topics it contains.

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