My Rating: 5/5 stars
“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.”
I’m beginning to think memoirs might be a favorite genre of mine, as this is the second one I have read and loved immensely. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s nonfiction–that it’s real and true and you’re seeing glimpses of real events from someone’s life and how they have shaped and affected them.
The most appealing part of this memoir is that it isn’t screaming at you, begging to be read and reacted to; it’s quiet, and as the back of the cover says, it’s told without an ounce of self-pity. Jeannette isn’t trying to convince you of anything or manipulate your feelings; she simply tells it like it is, and lets you decide how to feel. And that’s what sucks you in.
As a child, you see the best version of your family possible. Through innocent and ignorant eyes, you believe they are wonderful people who could never do wrong. And how could you think any different when they’re all you’ve ever known? But as you grow older, slowly the pieces of the puzzle start to come together, and your blinders are taken off; your life experience slowly eats away at the filter that your younger self saw through. You see things as they really are and not how you believed them to be.
In The Glass Castle, we see Jeannette’s family as she saw them–through this filter that all children have. We see her parents as she saw them–brilliant, albeit a bit eccentric, dreamers who raised their children to be strong, well-educated, hardworking individuals by, in fact, not raising them. And although Jeannette’s enchanting writing can, at times, blur the lines, we also can see them for who they really are–negligent and irresponsible people who failed miserably at providing their children with basic needs.
“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.”
As readers, with the blinders taken off, we see her father not as an intelligent, down-on-his-luck man who is always on the verge of some new breakthrough, but a gambling alcoholic who goes through life basically winging it. Her mother–not an art-savvy, philosophical woman, but an unsuccessful artist who had no interest in being a mother and viewed painting as more important than ensuring her starving children’s health and safety.
“Why spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour,” she’d ask us, “when in the same amount of time, I can do a painting that will last forever?”
Uprooted at a moment’s notice, every few weeks or months, we see Jeannette and her siblings’ lifestyle not as a series of fun adventures–as their parents tell them to view it as–but as a continuous cycle of hunger, disappointment, danger, and neglect. And yet, through it all, she still manages to love them.
All in all, this is a very intense, yet at the same time quiet, read about what it’s like being forced to grow up too soon. I highly recommend it.
“Things usually work out in the end.”
“What if they don’t?”
“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”