How To In Text Cite A Book In Chicago Style Book Review – The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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Book Review – The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls demonstrates in her amazing memoirs that bad parenting and absolute poverty do not necessarily condemn children to a dismal future. In “The Glass Castle” published in 2005 by Scribner, Walls reveals the intimate details of his upbringing within a dysfunctional but loving family.

“The Glass Castle” immediately hooks you with an opening scene in which Walls, now an adult in New York City, watches from her taxi window as her mother rummages through a dumpster. Her mother is homeless – one of those bag ladies we all see – but now you suddenly have to wonder how she would feel if that was your mother hanging out on the fringes of our society.

From this shocking moment, Walls transports you back to his first memory. She is three years old and suffers a terrible burn on her torso when her dress catches fire while she is boiling hot dogs on the stove. A long stay at the local hospital near where her family lives in Arizona ensues as Walls recovers. To the hospital staff, parental neglect is obvious, but Jeannette does not associate the murmured disapproval around her with her parents.

If any action by social services is anticipated, we never find out because her father, Rex Walls, is planning an early discharge from the hospital in his trademark “Rex Walls” fashion. This means she will take her baby girl and skip the hospital bill she has no intention or means to pay.

Jeannette is taken with her father, mother, older sister and younger brother and the family goes on the road. It begins just one of many journeys in which the Walls family ends up in ramshackle trailers and shacks across the deserts of Nevada, Arizona and California. They stay somewhere for a while until Rex can’t or won’t pay the rent and they skip town and do it all over again.

Rex inspired the book’s title from the plans, lovingly drawn on paper, of his “crystal castle” that he aspires to build one day. He often reassures his children with the promise of this fanciful dwelling. It will be a solar-powered house, but first he needs to raise the money to build it, which involves numerous gold prospecting schemes that are doomed to failure. Since gold hunting never pays the bills, Rex also finds work as an electrician or a handyman. He is intelligent and mechanically gifted, but his earnings are inevitably washed away by the sudden floods of drink that leave his family perpetually destitute.

In an enveloping narrative that plunges you into an existence of almost unimaginable deprivation, we see Jeannette and her siblings deal with their destructive alcoholic father and implore their mother to work and get them food. The mother, in fact, has a teacher’s degree, but she can rarely drag herself into employability. Although the various rural areas where they live are always looking for a qualified teacher, the mother cannot bear the work and only occasionally holds a job, with the help of her children who get her out of bed.

Mother’s infrequent paychecks rarely find their way into their children’s rumbling bellies. Rex will invariably claim his wife’s salary and start squandering it.

This desperate state continues for years as the Muros children sleep in cardboard boxes instead of beds, endure heated fights between their parents, and eat anything they can find. Their mother teaches them to swallow spoiled food by holding their noses.

But even in the midst of these horrors of poverty and alcoholism, Jeannette Walls expresses genuine love within her family. They are loyal to each other, and Rex, in his sober moments, is wise, encouraging, and tender to his children.

In her memoir, Walls brilliantly elaborates her experiences so that we can see the transformation of consciousness that occurs as she grows. As a child, she does not criticize her parents. She loves them and doesn’t realize how terribly deprived her life is. But as she and her siblings mature, they definitely understand that their parents’ shortcomings are not acceptable.

Jeannette’s teenage years are spent in West Virginia, where her father retires to his hometown after going completely broke in Arizona. The Walls’ life in West Virginia is dire as they occupy a shack at “93 Little Hobart Street.” The roof leaks. The plumbing doesn’t work. The Walls family buries their garbage and sewage in small holes they dig. They hardly ever have food. Jeannette goes through high school digging leftover sandwiches out of the trash, and Rex fills the role of town drunk. As miserable desire defines their lives, Jeannette’s mother makes things all the more irritating. When Jeannette and her brother find a diamond ring, they immediately want to sell it for food, but her mother keeps it to “improve her self-esteem”. And so they continue to starve.

As Jeannette Walls tells the story of her shameful upbringing, you will admire her and her siblings’ perseverance. The Walls children eventually take charge of their own lives and support each other in normal adulthood in a beautiful display of sibling closeness.

Every page of “The Glass Castle” will shock you with the shameless and selfish actions of parents who can’t and won’t even try to take care of their children or themselves. Despite his horrible parents, Walls rarely punishes them with his writing. His love for his parents often appears with painful consternation.

Much more happens throughout this incredible memoir than has been mentioned here. “The Glass Castle” is fascinating and an impossible book to put down. It is truly a masterpiece of storytelling and far superior to the typical bestseller.

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