I’ve discovered that I have a thing for memoirs about wild, unbelievably difficult childhoods and the children who grow up to overcome them. Educated was one of my favorite books of 2019, and I quite honestly didn’t expect to find anything else in its genre to rival it, especially not so soon. The Glass Castle, which is kind of the OG of the rough childhood, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps type of memoir, proved to be just as compelling as Educated. I don’t know why I put off reading it for so long, as I’ve owned a copy for years. Whatever led to that wait, I’m so glad that the wait is over. The Glass Castle was brilliant and beautiful and made me incredibly thankful for the type of upbringing I had and the (very stable) parents who raised me.
“I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.”
Jeannette Walls is a wonderful writer, and the story she told was an instance of truth being stranger than fiction. Not only can I not imagine living the life she lived as a child, I can’t fathom how her parents were able to get away with “raising” their children that way without Social Services ever really getting involved. I’ve heard of cases where children were separated from loving parents for next to no reason, and of children being given back to parents who neglect and abuse them time and time again by the powers-that-be. It’s why Chris and I decided that we couldn’t handle being foster parents. The fact that the type of rampant neglect that was Jeannette’s and her siblings’ way of life can go unchecked is absolutely appalling. Imagine having a mother who wants to do nothing but make her art and be left alone, a father who drinks away any little bit of money the family earns or finds, and never knowing where you and your three siblings will get your next meal, and how long you’ll have to go hungry. That level of selfishness among people who decide to reproduce infuriates me like nothing else on the planet.
“I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets.”
And yet, Jeannette always loved, and still loves, her family. Warts and all. There is this loyalty that was bred into her that I respect more than I can express. The fact that she and her siblings managed to escape the squalor in which they grew up and make something of their lives is incredibly impressive. But the love she maintained for the parents who let their kids starve instead of growing up and being responsible enough to take care of those they brought into the world is what really shines through in this book. All the way through, you can feel how much Jeannette truly loves her father, especially. No matter what he does, no matter how often they find themselves living in terrible conditions and going without basic necessities and food and he was to blame, her love for her father never dimmed. Her trust in him might have eroded, but not her his hold on her heart.
“You should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. Everyone has something good about them. You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.”
The Glass Castle is a true story that is equal parts horrifying and beautiful. If you ever need to be reminded that life could always be worse, read this book. And if you ever need to be reminded of the resilience of the human spirit, and our ability to overcome even the craziest of obstacles, read this book.
“Things usually work out in the end.”
“What if they don’t?”
“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”