I’m a sucker for a great non-fiction book and biographies are no exception! I find biographies so powerful; fiction can be wild and created, but imagined. Part of the appeal of biographies is that all the wildness is REAL and TRUE.
And by far one of the craziest biographies I’ve ever read has to be Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle.” From the outside, adult Jeannette appears relatively normal. She is a successful, beautiful journalist living the life. But for years Jeannette harbored the secrets of her absolutely unconventional, tough upbringing and finally shares them with the world in “The Glass Castle.” Now, some of you may think that you had strange upbringings. Maybe your family moved a lot or your parents were a little bit different, but trust me, you have nothing on the Walls family.
Jeannette appropriately begins her memoir with her first memory. She is three years old and cooking hot dogs on the stove. Yes, you read that right, three years old, practically a baby, and cooking! Jeannette, being an innocent child, doesn’t realize all the safety precautions involved in cooking on a stove and her dress manages to catch fire. She screams for her mother, who comes and puts out the flames with an army surplus blanket and them gets a ride with their neighbor to the hospital. There, Jeannette is treated for massive burns and even has to undergo a skin graft.
WTF, right? What person in their right mind lets a three year old cook!? But, of course, it gets worse. After spending several weeks in the hospital, and still with much time left in her recovery, Jeannette’s father arrives and announces that he is busting her out. He disconnects her IV, picks her up in his arms, runs out of the hospital with little Jeannette and hops into the family’s getaway car.
Again, at this point I was angry, so angry in fact that I was almost in tears. What kind of parent puts their child into this sort of danger?
And that is exactly Jeannette’s life: a constant struggle with some new obstacle or danger that her parents put in her way. Jeannette’s parents are what I would describe as gypsies, moving around from place to place and living there until they get themselves in trouble or run out of resources. Her parents are clearly unstable and I would go so far as to say mentally ill. Her father is paranoid that the mafia is chasing him and always coming up with insane inventions. He takes all of the family money and spends it on “research,” although Jeannette’s mother put it perfectly when she said that the only thing he is researching is the rate at which the liver can absorb alcohol. They also don’t have enough money to feed their children for the majority of the book, yet her father manages to spend loads at the local bars. Basically, Jeannette and her siblings grew up extremely neglected and learned to fend for themselves at a young age.
The book follows Jeannette all the way until college, chronicling her parents’ bizarre lifestyle and horrible treatment of their children. It was like a train wreck and I just couldn’t look away. My heart truly ached for the Walls kids and as I read more and more of their shocking stories, I couldn’t help but think of how many other children must live like this too.
“The Glass Castle” is one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time. It’s eye-opening and really makes you thankful for the family that you have. I recommend this to everyone. It’s just another reminder that everyone has a story and that you should think twice before judging an individual. It’s an absolutely fantastic book that you need to read!