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The Glass Castle, more than a story of survival

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Jeannette Walls had a rough childhood. That’s probably putting it mildly. Her parents were unconventional and eccentric. That’s definitely putting it mildly, but in her memoir, The Glass Castle (Scribner, 2005), Jeannette writes respectfully about her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls.

Jeannette describes in gritty detail the hardships she and her three siblings suffered growing up in a series of southwestern towns. Rex was good at getting jobs, but not so good at keeping them. When there was no money for rent, the family would pack up and leave in middle of the night.

Rex and Rose Mary treated their itinerant lifestyle as one continuous adventure, so that’s how Jeannette saw it. Jeannette describes the beauty of the desert where she and her brother, Brian, often went exploring and rock collecting.

Rex’s drinking and Rose Mary’s preference for painting instead of caring for her children causes some dangerous and nearly fatal accidents. These traumatic events are interspersed with tender moments between the family members.

In a life of chaos, poverty, and near starvation, Rex and Rose Mary gave their children priceless gifts. Rose Mary taught all four children to read before they were five years old. Rex taught them advanced mathematics, and spent afternoons playing intellectually challenging games with them, games that he invented.

When Jeannette is 10 years old, her family moves to Welch, West Virginia, a bleak coal mining town. In Welch, the family’s living conditions go from bad to worse. During Jeannette’s teenage years, she and her older sister, Lori, realize it’s up to them to save themselves and their siblings.

This is more than a story of survival. The Glass Castle is about making the best of any situation and sharing a laugh during the toughest of times. It’s about resilience and never giving up.

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