I became aware of this amazing book in the same way that I learn about lots of good things: through my friends.
I’m not sure how I missed this powerful story because The Glass Castle was published in 2005, received numerous awards and was a New York Times Bestseller for three years.
But the important thing is that I did find out about it. And once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.
The Glass Castle is a revealing story that I came to think of as Resilience 101.
I say this because when I read someone else’s story of adversity, it often offers me valuable insights into how others go about developing their own inner strength, their own ability to bend but not break, in order to handle life’s excruciating challenges, even when it seems as though no good or positive solutions exist.
The author, the extraordinary Jeannette Walls, is a beautiful writer who deals with her family’s unusual story in a straightforward and truthful manner — which is not an easy thing to do. Jeannette is the middle child and narrator who tries to untangle the chaos of her family. In the Walls family, there is no structure, and in this totally hands off environment, the children somehow figure out that in order to survive they need to learn to roll with the consequences of their parents irresponsible behavior; otherwise they will lose the tenacity that keeps them going.
From the first sentence, you are pulled into her story and you stay beside her until the end. Jeannette Walls has given us a gritty memoir but one filled with lots of parental and sibling love.
While there is a lot of love in this family, and the parents manage for a time to get the children to think they are on a great adventure, it is ultimately left to the four children to fend for themselves. Each child tries to look out as much as they can for the others. But the dysfunction of being raised by an alcoholic father and an aspiring artist mother who looks the other way as one crisis after another falls upon the family takes a toll on the family unit. There are many years of poverty and emotional turmoil, and the reader follows Walls and her three siblings through a topsy-turvy upbringing that is often times dangerous in its neglect.
Yet it is a true story and one that Walls needed to write if only to offer hope and show that it is possible to gain strength and survive adversity. The Walls children love their parents but come to see that they can do differently than their parents. They emotionally outgrow their parents and wisely realize that they do not have to fall into their behavior patterns. It is wondrous to watch as the Walls children develop into their own, itching to discover the world beyond their crumbling shack of a home.
If you think that this kind of story will upset you then The Glass Castle may not the book for you. However, no matter how sad I thought the story got, I found beauty and healing in the human condition of the Walls family and their ability to find a way to go forward and remain loyal to each other.