The Life of Bon: Bon's Book Club: The Glass Castle

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bon's Book Club: The Glass Castle


2013 Book Club Schedule
February:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
March:  The Fault in our Stars by John Green
April:  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
May:  Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
June:  Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
July:  The Help by Kathryn Stockett
August: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
September: Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
October:  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
November: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
December:  We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver'

Book time, ladies!  This month's book was The Glass Castle.  I absolutely tore through this book- I could not put it down.  The last few pages I tried to read as slowly as I could, savoring each page and wishing it didn't have to end.  I always know that's a great sign that I liked a book, if I get so sad the closer I get to finishing it.

The Glass Castle is a memoir written by Jeannette Wells about growing up with nomadic parents.  They move all over the place, they never have money, the kids sleep in cardboard boxes for beds.  The mom is an aspiring painter and the dad wanders from project to project- neither one of them hardly working or making money.  The kids are basically starving and are left to fend for themselves while the mom daydreams and the dad spends days at a time at a bar.

This is my second time reading The Glass Castle.  The first time I read it was in the summer of 2006.  I was 20 and living the carefree, wild life that summer. I must have been pretty dang distracted that summer if I couldn't remember more of the details of the book because it is an absolutely terrific book. Anytime anyone has mentioned The Glass Castle the past seven years I have chimed in, "Oh yah!  I read that!  It was great!" and then as soon as that person would want to engage in any sort of conversation about the book I was out- couldn't remember a darn thing.

This time around I reacted very strongly to the book.  Little Jeanette practically became a part of me.  I lived her and breathed her and it was like she was a real part of my life, calling me up every night to tell me all of the crazy shenanigans her family was up to.  I worried about her and stayed up at night thinking about her and wondered how in the world she was going to make it out alive.  

I was also much angrier with her parents reading it this second time.  I remember about a year after first reading The Glass Castle my sister said something along the lines of, "Oh, that's the book with the parents that abuse their children?" and I stood up for the parents.  I didn't think it was abuse at all.  "No, they just live a more carefree lifestyle.  They're not concerned about all that worldly stuff.  It's certainly unconventional, but I wouldn't call it abuse."  As I read it a second time I found myself totally contradicting my earlier thoughts.  I was infuriated by her parents.  I saw both parents as extremely selfish and in no condition to be raising children.

The scene I reacted to most strongly was one of the scenes with the grandma- Erma.  Mom and dad have gone back to Phoenix to pick up their things and while they are gone Erma tries to touch Brian inappropriately.  The other kids stand up for Brian and Lori gets in a fight with Erma, at which point Erma banishes them all to the basement.  For days the kids are by themselves downstairs with no food, no water, and no heat in the middle of winter. This is what Walls says when the parents come back weeks later to find the four children huddled in bed for warmth,

"Dad stomped down the stairs into the basement, furious at all of us, me for back-talking Erma and making wild accusations, and Lori even more for daring to strike her own grandmother, and Brian for being such a pussy and starting the whole thing.  I thought Dad would come around to our side once he'd heart what had happened, and I tried to explain.

"I don't care what happened!" he yelled.

"But we were just protecting ourselves," I said.

"Brian's a man, he can take it," he said. "I don't want to hear another word of this.  Do you hear 
me?" He was shaking his head, but wildly, almost as if he thought he could keep out the sound of my voice.  He wouldn't even look at me. 

Up until that point I could understand Jeannette's tenderness toward her dad- what little girl doesn't think her dad is a hero?- but that was where I drew the line.  I couldn't believe that the dad wouldn't stand up for his kids, defend his soon, take the children out of the house right that minute.  I could forgive to some extent his drunkenness and his constant unemploymentk and his allowing his kids to go hungry, but not this.

I was likewise upset with the mom.  Although her neglect seems to be a bit more subtle, she still drove me crazy.  The kids are so starving they are eating butter and sugar and when the kids find a two carat diamond under the house, the mom keeps it instead of selling it to give food to the kids.  Her reasoning: "It could improve my self-esteem.  And at times like these, self-esteem is even more vital than food."

What I loved about the parents, though, and Walls' interpretation of them, is that you could tell as she wrote about them that she still had so much love for them.  I loved the parents in one chapter and in the next I wanted to strangle them to death- just like people in real life, I guess.  They were incredibly flawed and frustrating, but also somewhat endearing.  I appreciated that Walls could write about what most of us would see as a terrible childhood without sounding bitter or resentful.  She describes it with love, even the truly horrific parts.

I would recommend this book to anyone in a heartbeat.  In fact, I am trying to get it approved by the school district to teach my seniors.  It is such an eye opening book and so well written.  I feel like there is so much to discuss too.  One of the questions I would love to ask my students is if they think the parents should lose custody of their children.  Is it better that the children go on in filth and starvation and be together or be split up and have essentials like food, warm water, winter coats, etc.  Should parents like these be punished in some way for their actions?  What gave the kids the ability to rise up from their surroundings?  I think I could get great discussion out of those 18 year olds with a book like this.  Now, if I can just get it approved!

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or if you wrote a blog post, leave the link for the post!  If you want to write a post but don't know what to say, consider the questions in the paragraph above.  Should be lots to discuss there! 


  1. One of my high school teachers gave this book to me when I was having trouble at home, I still don't know exactly what she meant by it but I loved the book and the teacher (:

  2. I actually didn't participate in reading the book for September but I did read it a few years ago. I was like you. I remember really enjoying it but the actual details are a little fuzzy. Probably will be picking it up again soon, but I was wondering if you had read Breaking Night by Liz Murray? I think anyone that enjoyed The Glass Castle would also love Breaking Night.

  3. Anonymous9:04 PM

    I kind of enjoyed the family's nomadic and "free spirited" lifestyle at the beginning, but throughout the book my eyes started to be opened to what selfish and awful parents they were. It was like I was Jeannette and I kept trying to defend their actions with excuses because I sort of liked their eccentricities at first. I felt like I was there with all the kids, being disappointed and let down time after time by their parents. I deeply felt Jeannette's struggle to continue supporting and loving her father even after he became more and more destructive. But both parents eventually did things I considered unforgivable and I was hoping the kids would get out of it alive. They actually exceeded my expectations when they were able pull together and take care of each other.

    I thought the ending was very interesting when her college professor asks the class why homeless people are in the situations they're in and Jeannette says, "I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want." Then the professor basically tells her she has no idea what she's talking about.

  4. I don't think I was a mom when I read this book, but I still remember that my gut reaction was want to adopt them and take care of them. As an oldest child I feel a deep need to save and protect everyone. I can't help but see everything through that lens. I should probably read it again now and see how I feel about it.

  5. I much preferred Half Broke Horses. She wrote it after The Glass Castle but it's actually the story of her grandmother. Fabulous book.

  6. I like the chocolate bar part, when the kids are starving and yet the mother is getting heavier. Turns out that she was eating chocolate bars even though there wasn't enough food for the kids. It just seemed like such a simple thing that spoke volumes about their mother.

  7. I really really loved this book. I got it as a gift and it didn't seem interesting to me, so I waited like a year before reading it. It was phenomenal. The part that stands out to me is the chocolate bar part like Michele said, and if I remember correctly, the Dad taking the money the girls were saving up by making posters. I remember feeling so defeated with them and feeling like I was taking on so many of their heavy burdens.

  8. So... I put this book on hold at my library but it hasn't come in yet. SIGH. I will be reading it soon - I promise!

  9. I loved this one! I read it years ago and it's one of my favorite memoirs!

  10. I connected with this book on an entirely different level than all other books I have read recently. As a child from an abusive home, every descriptive word about the dad shook me and stayed with me. Even still, It was refreshing to read about how she overcame it and still kept a small glimmer of hope and wonder in her spirit after going through all that she did. Wells hit it out of the park with this one.

  11. From the first page, I was reading this book with my mouth hanging open. As a parent, I think it was even harder for me to read what these parents were doing to their kids. Sure, they were teaching them self-reliance, but to an extreme that made me uncomfortable and so sad. The parents are so selfish, stealing money from their kids to fuel their own vices. The mother made me particularly angry because of the jewelry and the land that she owned. She could've dug them out of that hole if not for her pride. And she wouldn't just leave that husband of hers, that no-good alcoholic husband who was obviously getting worse as the book went on. Ugh. I was so proud when the kids decided to up and leave. I kept hoping for a miracle from the parents but nothing happened!

    I wish they had stayed in Phoenix, though. Once they moved to Welch is was just doom and gloom. It was like the desert sun made even their dark moments a bit brighter.

  12. I haven't read this book yet, but just last night I was at the public library, and it was on their banned book display which really piqued my interest in this book! I have put it on hold, and I cannot wait to read it!

  13. I read the book many years ago and loved it!

  14. I absolutely love this book and couldn't put it down either. One of my favorite and more memorable reads. And if you ask me, this one was much better than her other "Half Broke Horses". I have to look into reading her other books. Her family is so interesting.

  15. This is one of my favorite books of all time! I may have to re-read it... I'm glad you enjoyed it, too!

  16. This is one of my favorite books of all time! I may have to re-read it... I'm glad you enjoyed it, too!

  17. I wrote this review back in 2011, so I'll just repost it here!

    Where to start? Mind-boggling, heartbreaking, maddening, unfathomable, yet honest, loving, and empowering. I came away from this book with a different understanding of unconditional love and with far more gratitude and humility than I had when I started.

  18. Thank you!! :) I read your blog post on this book and downloaded the sample onto my iPad immediately...and couldn't stop there so I bought the whole thing. SUCH A GREAT BOOK!!!

  19. Finally read it!!!

  20. We love to do lots of reading, coloring, and playing outside.My boys and I play games for fun learning.
    The Raven