The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a compelling memoir about four children growing up in extreme poverty, resulting from the erratic behaviour of their parents, who possibly were struggling with untreated mental illness. At the beginning of the book the family is poor and living a chaotic life. They are constantly on the move and never put down any roots.
Rose Mary and Rex Walls, the children’s parents, are irresponsible, acting like children instead of adults. However it is clear that they love each other and also their children. In fact the family is very affectionate, and while the children suffer from hunger and neglect, they still appear to be happy.
Rex Walls clearly wanted to give his children the moon and the stars, but he was not able to hold down a job. He was immensely charming and had big dreams, which he shared with his children. The very biggest dream of all was the construction of an eco-friendly glass castle, which is where the name of the book comes from.
The Glass Castle is a Story of Trauma and Resilience
As the children get older and the financial situation of the family deteriorates, they move to the dreary mining town where Rex grew up. At first the family stays with his parents for a few weeks until they find a place to rent. It is immediately obvious that the grandmother is cold and abusive. In fact at one point we get a hint that sexual abuse might be part of the reason Rex was so determined to get away. However the book only touches on this and does not take this further.
At this point Rex succumbs to alcoholism, becoming the town drunk. He steals money from his own children and disappears for days on end. The mother, Rose Mary, is depressed and determined not to grow up, even when her children push her to get a job because they had nothing to eat.
A True Inspiration
What is remarkable about this story is the resilience and courage of the three elder children. They learn to take care of each other and their youngest sister, even though they were still children themselves. They find odd jobs to bring in money, go through the trash to find food, and even steal when things are desperate, but they never give up hope of a better life.
Finally, through a collective effort, they manage to save enough money to enable the eldest sister to move to New York. She settles and soon helps Jeannette and their brother to move there too. The three of them thrive and build a new life in the city, a true testament to their strength of character and resilience.
This story radiates love and hope. If you too have suffered adverse childhood experiences then I strongly recommend that you read this book. I am sure that it will speak to you, just like it spoke to me.