TNH book review: ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls

Bret Belden

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls is a memoir like no other. In this recount of Walls’ childhood, readers will be transported into her wild, unusual family. Her memoir was published in 2005 and was adapted into a film starring Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson in 2017. The memoir recounts in gritty detail how Walls grew up living in severe poverty with her siblings and dysfunctional parents. When sober, Rex Walls is every child’s dream parent; intelligent and charismatic. He captured his children’s imagination while teaching them about the stars and how to live without fear. Rose Mary Walls is an eccentric painter and writer whose last desire is to provide for her family. The four children turned out well despite their unique upbringing.   

The preface of the book begins in the present day and from then goes back to Walls’ first memory as a young child. It starts with a 3-year-old Walls cooking hotdogs on the stove with an open flame. Her mother was in the other room painting when she heard a stomach-churning scream from the kitchen. At the hospital, Rex refused to listen to the doctors and nurses and used Walls’ younger brother as a distraction so they could escape. Rex and Rose Mary are the most unorthodox parents you will hear about where their children made it out of their grasps. This is not only a memoir, but a story of the human condition, family and the will to know what’s best even if it means hurting the ones you love the most.   

The first time I read “The Glass Castle” was for my high school memoir class during my senior year. Previously I had been in a reading slump and was in dire need of a book to grab my attention. Walls’ ability to be raw and detailed in her writing pulls you in and doesn’t let go.  There were points while I was reading when I would actually scream at the pages and shake the book to try to knock some sense into Rose Mary and Rex Walls. The thing about Rex is you can’t help but fall in love with him and can see that he really loves his children and truly wants the best for them. There is emotional struggle between all the children, but especially between Jeannette and Rex because she wants to believe that he is a good man and will keep his promises of a better, more stable life for their family.   

Memoir is a tough genre to write without sounding self-centered or being completely boring. Walls’ story is unique in the way that the things she and her siblings have gone through are so out-of-the-box and wild that you have to keep reminding yourself that this is all true, that these events really did happen to real people. “The Glass Castle” is a one-of-a-kind book that I believe everyone should read because there is something in there that anyone can relate to; not necessarily within the outrageous antics of Rex, but in the sense of wanting to make something of yourself and striving to be better than the generation before.   

Be prepared to laugh, shed tears and wish you could shake sense into the parents. Read the book first before the movie.