Jeannette Walls // The glass castle

Credit: Amazon.co.uk
The autobiography The glass castle by Jeanette Walls is hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read – and I don’t normally like biographies.
It is the fascinating and heart-breaking life story of journalist Jeanette Walls. She was the second oldest of four children, born into a highly intelligent but incredibly poor family. While her parents could have accomplished great things in their lives if they had applied themselves, they were set on never “selling out” and live a normal life. Their father went from one odd job to the next, working until he was fired or needed a drink, continuing until he became a true drunk who never did a day’s work again. While he held on to the odd job, he was also working on the plans for The glass castle, the big house he wanted to build for his family in the desert. He was constantly working on the blueprint and the kids were allowed to design their own rooms. In order to have money to build the glass castle, he designed The prospector, a machine that was going to find gold. With only a prototype made, he never actually completed the machine, and there was never any money coming in from his inventions. Their mother devoted her life to her art, which she couldn’t bare to part with and sell, and didn’t understand why she should work when she didn’t want to.
The parents loved their children in a very unconventional way and believed in knowledge and felt they were better than everyone who lived a conventional life and paid their taxes, though they tended to live in the worst city in the worst possible house in the worst neighbourhood without food, electricity, running water or a tight roof. The children were used to going hungry and wearing thrifted clothing that was threadbare, being teased by the other children because they so obviously were poor. One Christmas when there wasn’t any money, the children were each given a star for a present. Birthdays were rarely celebrated or acknowledged.
Throughout their childhood they moved from one poor town to the next, settling in places it would be easy for their father to get a job working in mines or doing various types of maintenance work. The children learnt not to get too attached to places or things, as after a while, they would “do the skedaddle” and take off in the middle of the night with only the belongings that fit in their car, and move to the next city, leaving all their creditors behind.
Jeanette and her siblings thought the years on the constant move would be over when their mother inherited a lot of money and the house of their granmother in Phoenix. Though they lived like a normal family with some of modern life’s amenities for a while, it didn’t take long until the money was spent and the house, which was full of termite, started to literally fall apart. They uprooted once again and ended up in their father’s home town, Welch, a depressing mining town in West Virginia. They ended up in the worst living situation of their lives, their father by now being a complete drunk and the mother refusing to work after a short stint as a teacher. They had a bucket for a toilet, the roof was leaking so they had to sleep under tarp, and they ate food from the bins at school.
Having been home schooled up until now, the kids insisted on starting school to get out of the crumbling house. Jeanette’s youngest sister Maureen was just a small child and she soon started spending all the time at her friends’ houses, as there she would get food and clothes. The older children couldn’t stand the bullying at school and their living situation any longer, and started dreaming of a new life in New York. They took part-time jobs and planned for Lori, the oldest, to first move to NY to go to university. Then Jeanette and her young brother Brian would follow when Jeanette had finished high school. The children carried through on their plans and did great for themselves, but their parents didn’t take too well to being abandoned by their own children. It didn’t take long before they also moved to NY, only to be homeless, then squatters. In the end, they were given ownership of their squat, and they were proud houseowners, with a flat filled with junk from the streets and the thrift stores.
Though this is a story of neglect and hardship, abuse and alcoholism, it is also a story of hope and new beginnings. Jeanette is never bitter or hateful towards her parents, but writes in a very descriptive and captivating language about her unusual life.
I hope I haven’t given away too much of the plot – I just thought it was an amazing life story and could hardly put the book down. When I read some bits again to write this review, I caught myself reading entire chapters because Jeanette’s writing is so good and the story flows so well. Something new is happening on every page and you are desperate to know how the story and their lives unfold.
You can buy the book here (UK) and here (US). Buy it, read it, love it!