I pick up all sorts of books, and love to read memoirs. This book came heavily recommended by Bindu, and luckily enough, there it was, sitting on my library shelves. That doesn’t happen all that often, so of course, I had to grab it.
One of Jeannette’s first memories is of getting burnt while cooking hotdogs on a stove. She was three. Apparently her mother felt there was nothing wrong about letting her three-year old cook. And her father felt there was nothing wrong with spiriting away a burnt three-year old from the hospital(because he didn’t/couldn’t pay) and then driving the family away to escape the authorities. That seems to be the theme of Jeannette’s parents life. Live in a place until things turn sour or people come after them with the bills. When that happens, they would just up and run. To the next place that would have them.
Jeannette’s parents weren’t vagrants or uneducated, they just lived with a different set of values from most normal people. Jeannette’s dad was a brilliant man, with a scientific bent of mind. He would spend hours explaining things to them, let them experiment themselves(of course, sometimes, they would end up almost burning their house down, but that didn’t affect them), and he dreamt of making all sorts of scientific discoveries. And of course, his grand dream of constructing the ‘Glass Castle’. Her mum was an educated woman, who believed in no rules for the children. Having grown up with a strict and orderly mother, she went the other way for her own kids. She believed in letting them be. The children might not have food all the time, but they always had plenty to read. And plenty to keep their minds active.
To me it was as unbelievable read. It was unimaginable that two parents who live so for themselves. The dad who lost track of everything once he started drinking and the mother who could actually eat chocolates while the children starved. People who had the means, the resources and the ability to provide better for their children but prefer to do what pleases them rather than do what most people would. Instead they fritter it all away. Although I have to say, as a parent, her father was certainly better. He seemed to take some bit of it seriously, while her mother was just plain selfish and self obsessed. And some of his actions did bring tears to my eyes, like the time he read all of Jeannette’s course books, just in case she needed help, or gave her the money she needed for her course. It came across that his heart was in the right place, even if he forgot all that once he started drinking.
Living in such tough conditions, did seem to have done the children some good. All the children grow up with a sense of responsibility that was far, far greater than that of their parents. They learn to work and save money for their own future. And they escape from their childhoods to make a better life for themselves. If anything, this memoir goes to show that despite having all the advantages of a stable childhood, and a good education, one could still go and ruin one’s life, while others with absolutely no advantages and horrific parenting, can still go on and make the most of their lives with their perseverance and determination.
Despite the childhood, she and her siblings had, what I found amazing was that they still loved their parents. They did what they could for them. They still looked out for them. That was incredibly sweet and touching to read. I particularly loved the way the author has written the memoir. Where she could have so easily been bitter and angry, she is just accepting of her parents, while loving them for the way they are.
This is one of the books that will stay with you forever. One that made me thankful for what I had, made me glad that I read it. I would rate it a 5/5 for it was an incredibly moving book.
About the Author
Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist. She was born in Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University. She published a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, in 2005.