The Glass Castle is the story of Jeannette Walls’ childhood. She grew up in extreme poverty with a highly intelligent but alcoholic father who couldn’t keep a job and had the family “skedaddle” from town whenever things got bad. He was a smart man with little education but had big dreams (one of which was to build a glass castle, hence the title of the book); he just fails to realize any of them. Her mother was an artist who encouraged the four children’s independence by basically neglecting them. She didn’t believe in cooking a meal “that would be gone in one afternoon, while a painting could last forever.” The parents were great parents, except where food and safety and shelter were concerned.
The family moved from town to town, state to state, until Jeannette was about 10, when the family returned to the small West Virginia coal mine town where the father grew up. With each move, their lifestyle changed. Sometimes they had electricity, running water, beds and a car. Sometimes they slept in large boxes, scavenged for food from the lunchroom trash at school, had huge holes in their homes, no insulation and no way to heat the house through the winter. There were a few occasions where the mom was persuaded to take a job teaching (she had a college degree) but the children had to treat her like she was the child: waking her up, scooting her out the door, organizing her lessons, grading her papers. And while the money was coming in, they did okay. But usually the father got hold of some of the money and drank it away, gambling to win some back, but then disappearing from home for days at a time.
The children had no friends. They were seen as poor and dirty. Even among other poor children, they appeared worse since their parents refused to be on welfare or accept charity. As the kids grew up they started working odd jobs to save up money so they could escape to New York. And they did, but their parents followed and lived in New York, on the streets, while the kids fended for themselves finding jobs, apartments and becoming the responsible adults that their parents never were.
I really enjoyed this book. At times the reality of it was hard to believe, but it really opens one’s eyes to a side of life that I would have never seen otherwise. It amazes me how the author was able to write it with so much love and respect for her parents, even after all they put her through. It also shows how amazing this woman — all of the kids, it seems — are: to survive that childhood and go from poverty to being successful, responsible adults very unlike their parents.
Rated: Moderate. The language in this book is mild — there are about a dozen occurrences. The sexual references are mostly references to male genitalia. They all are included in scenes relating to the children, however. The parents are neglectful, and strangers and relatives are able to molest the author and her brother. The scenes are mild in their description, but the disturbing nature of the occurrences warrants a “moderate” rating.