Glass Castle Book Club and Review

One of my favorite things about a book club is the exposure to books I wouldn’t choose for myself – or even know about. I hadn’t heard of Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls before I found out it was the book we’d be discussing. For those of you who are also unfamiliar with the book, here’s a brief description.

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. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor. {Amazon}

Part of me wants my children to read this book, but there were too many scenes that are a too mature for most of them. There are many other parts of the book that I read to them to show them that I’m really a pretty good mom! I can’t fathom a life where children grow up without the stability I take for granted. My childhood had its own challenges, who’s didn’t, but they were far from extreme. Yet, Ms. Walls handled her challenges with a courage and determination that I admire! I especially appreciate her love and compassion for her parents and their weaknesses. It would be so easy for her to resent and distance herself from them.

This was an especially interesting book to discuss in book club. We all focused on different parts that especially shocked each of us. For one member it was the break down of child protective services, and for another it was the sexual assault. We all wanted to go home and hug our children at the end of that meeting!

This book is not for the faint of heart, there is language that I generally avoid and disturbing situations that I’d rather not even my teenagers read. Despite the nature of the material, it is a worthwhile and eye-opening read. Because of the mature nature of the book I give it three slices.

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