(from Cindy Bushey-our Book Club blogger) The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls provoked a lot of mixed emotions in me. It’s a stunning retelling of a mixed-up childhood, sometimes loving, sometimes abusive. The almost clinical descriptions of abject poverty and neglect made me want to cry, especially when the young Jeannette didn’t realize how awful they were. I always wonder that people feel free to sidestep their obligations to their children of food, clothes, healthcare, and shelter. I guess dodging your rent payments is just a natural progression. But how can two apparently very intelligent people like Jeannette’s parents turn off the part of their brain that would normally be telling them their children need food? Was it a result of their own childhoods? But early in the book there was a real spirit of family love evident at times which made the neglect even harder to read. I think the two images that will remain with me are Jeanette’s father essentially acting as a pimp to use his daughter to get money, and Jeanette’s mother hoarding chocolate under the bedcovers without sharing it with starving children.
The fact that Jeannette and her siblings survived is amazing – which then made me wonder if we generally pamper ourselves too much. Is it really true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Do we run to the doctor too much at the first cough or cut? Another observation – isn’t it amazing how easy it was for the children to be abruptly classified and written off or forgotten in their various schools? As testing and the production of researchable data gains ever greater value in our educational system, will we be losing sight of the individual students and their needs in favor of more and more numbers to be crunched? When will teachers have the time to reach out to students when the teacher’s worth is based on the test scores they can produce?
Jeannette’s resilience and ability to see her parents’ failings and move beyond them to make a success of her life and pull her sister and brother with her was astounding. It was interesting that they would make their homes in New York City – what a contrast from the very rural West Virginia. I found it unsatisfying that Jeannette could dwell at such great length on her childhood but suddenly marry and live on Park Avenue without the same in-depth discussion of her marriage, divorce, and re-marriage. Overall, it was a very good book to read, and I would give it a thumbs-up.
Our book club gave this selection an aggregate 5 thumbs up and 4 thumbs neutral. At least of the “neutrals” said that he did so because he was floored and angered by the irresponsible parenting expressed in the book. We were all amazed by the resilience of the four Walls children and wondered how they were able to make their own way in New York after “escaping” from West Virginia. We also thought about the other kids who lived in Welsh, who did not have the exposure to books and encouragement in critical thinking skills that obviously was of benefit to the Walls children. We supposed that most of those other kids are still in Welsh, living in poverty.
It was a sobering, thought provoking memoir that took courage to write.