Summary and book reviews of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle

A Memoir

by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2005, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2006, 304 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom's gestures were all familiar -- the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she'd hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Though The Glass Castle is brimming with unforgettable stories, which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, the funniest?
  2. Discuss the metaphor of a glass castle and what it signifies to Jeannette and her father. Why is it important that, just before leaving for New York, Jeannette tells her father that she doesn't believe he'll ever build it? (p. 238).
  3. The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her burning herself severely at age three, and her father dramatically takes her from the hospital: "You're safe now" (p. 14). Why do you think she opens with that...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist - Stephanie Zvirin (starred review)

Shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection, about parents and about the strength of family ties--for both good and ill.

The New York Times - Francine Prose

The Glass Castle falls short of being art, but it's a very good memoir. At one point, describing her early literary tastes, Walls mentions that ''my favorite books all involved people dealing with hardships.'' And she has succeeded in doing what most writers set out to do -- to write the kind of book they themselves most want to read.

Kirkus Reviews

Walls's journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect. A pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, thoroughly American story.

Publishers Weekly

With a fantastic storytelling knack... Walls doesn't pull her punches.

Author Blurb Dani Shapiro, author of Family History
Jeannette Walls has carved a story with precision and grace out of one of the most chaotic, heartbreaking childhoods ever to be set down on the page. This deeply affecting memoir is a triumph in every possible way, and it does what all good books should: it affirms our faith in the human spirit.

Author Blurb Patricia Bosworth, author of Anything Your Little Heart Desires and Diane Arbus: A Biography
The Glass Castle is the saga of the restless, indomitable Walls family, led by a grand eccentric and his tempestuous artist wife. Jeannette Walls has survived poverty, fires, and near starvation to triumph. She has written this amazing tale with honesty and love.

Author Blurb Dominick Dunne, author of The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper
Just read the first pages of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I defy you not to go on. It's funny and sad and quirky and loving. I was incredibly touched by it.

Reader Reviews

Janet Rendall

The Glass Castle
I selected this book of my book group because we can all relate at some level with a dysfunctional family. This family coped against incredible odds with humor, love and fortitude. If only all families had that level of intellect and emotional ...   Read More

Monica Kuolt

Experiences
In this touching book, Glass Castle, written by Jeannette Walls, exposes her true life by the lessons, adventures, and experiences that has brought on her and her family emotionally but also rewarding. The book starts out with mid 30’s Jeannette ...   Read More

Sally

The Glass Castle Book Review
In this most touching and compelling novel of all times, author Jeanette Walls who is the main character of the story unveils her root growing up in an extremely dysfunctional family of 4 children headed by a drunk and irresponsible father and ...   Read More

Courtney Craig

Undescribable
Some stir hearts with pictures. Some with dance. Some with song. And some can move your entire being, creep into the very crevices of your soul, with words. Jeannette Walls did just that. The Glass Castle will be a work of art, a bold ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

For two decades Jeannette Walls hid her roots - working primarily as a gossip columnist at several publications including Esquire and USA Today, and as a contributor to MSNBC.  She even wrote a book about gossip, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip (1999) - described by Publishers Weekly as 'provocative and invariably entertaining, Walls gives dishing the dirt its historical, social and political due.'

Then cracks started to appear in her version of her life and she found herself compelled to tell it how it really was.  She dedicates her book to her husband John, 'for convincing me that ...

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