The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title:  The Glass Castle

Author:  Jeannette Walls

Hardback:  288 pages

ISBN:  9780743247535

Dad came home in the middle of the night a few months later and roused all of us from bed.

“Time to pull up stakes and leave this shit-hole behind,” he hollered.

We had fifteen minutes to gather whatever we needed and pile into the car.

…An hour passed before we finally tied Mom’s paintings on the top of the car, shoved whatever would fit into the trunk, and piled the overflow on the backseat and the car floor.  Dad steered the Blue Goose through the dark, driving slowly so as not to alert anyone in the trailer park that we were, as Dad like to put it, doing the skedaddle.  He was grumbling that he couldn’t understand why the hell it took so long to grab what we needed and haul our asses into the car.

“Dad!” I said.  “I forgot Tinkerbell!”

“Tinkerbell can make it on her own,” Dad said.  “She’s like my brave little girl.  You are brave and ready for adventure, right?”

“I guess,” I said.  I hoped whoever found Tinkerbell would love her despite her melted face.  For comfort, I tried to cradle Quixote, our gray and white cat who was missing an ear, but he growled and scratched at my face.  “Quiet, Quixote!”  I said.

“Cats don’t like to travel,” Mom explained.

Anyone who didn’t like to travel wasn’t invited on our adventure, Dad said.  He stopped the car, grabbed Quixote by the scruff of the neck and tossed him out the window.  Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.

“Don’t be so sentimental,” Mom said.  She told me we could always get another cat, and now Quixote was going to be  a wild cat, which was much more fun than being a house cat.  Brian, afraid Dad might toss Juju out the window as well, held the dog tight.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, pages 17-18

This incident haunted my mind throughout the whole book.  I couldn’t help think, “If they could just toss the cat out without a thought, telling me we could just get another, who’s to say they wouldn’t do that to me, as well?”  Later in the book when Jeannette takes a tumble out of the moving car, the same thought occurred to her as she watches the family disappear down the road.  “What if they decide I’m too much trouble to come back for?”  It had to be a terribly difficult uncertainty to grow up with.

Not only is there the impermanence of home and things, there are virtually no rules nor supervision, as the Rex, Jeannette’s father, spends much of his time “researching” at the local tavern and her mom, a narcissistic enabler with some sort of mood disorder fritters her time and money away escaping reality in books and painting.  Too many times to count, the kids are forced to go hungry… or worse, dig through garbage to find food… while Dad drinks and smokes the money away and Mom sneaks nibbles of Hershey bars hidden under her covers. 

On the rare occasion the mother works, it’s the kids who have to force her out of bed and onto school where she’s a teacher, then clean her classroom after school, grade her papers and make out her lesson plans in the evenings.  After spending 8 weeks away from Rex and the kids, living in a dorm, eating regularly and taking classes to keep her teaching licence up to date, she comes home to report she’s had an epiphany.  She tells her teenage daughter who has been handling the bills, working and feeding her siblings, that she’s spent her whole life taking care of everyone else and now she’s gonna live life for herself… say WHAT?!

yeah….. m’kay.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a shocking and heartbreaking memoir of growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother.  Over and over, I was stunned and even angered by the so-called adults complete and total lack of parenting skills.  At one point, Jeannette, who was 7 or 8 at the time, wakes up to find a strange man touching her beneath her covers, and when she tells her parents maybe they should shut and locked the doors at night so as to keep the creeps out, they tell her some crap about fresh air and not letting fear get the better of you.  In her teens, when Jeannette tells her mom that her uncle has been inappropriate with her, her mother tells her he’s just lonely and that “sexual assault is a crime of perception.”  Time and again, these two genetic donors (calling them parents is going too far, to be honest), show a complete lack of common sense and sheer laziness to step up to the plate.  I am amazed that the kids lived to adulthood, let alone to be anything close as successful as they nationally syndicated columnist and regular contributor to MSNBC.  Brian and Lori also made good despite their upbringing.

One thing I can say about reading this book is that I can say with 100% certainty that I’m not that bad as a parent.  It’s done a lot to make me feel better as a parent… at least I shut the doors at night and feed my kids and make sure they bathe regularly.  I make sure they’re fed before I feed myself and I’d damn sure have food in the fridge AND pantry before gnawing on a Hershey bar.  I feel guilty if I decide not to share my candy bar.. or Lindt truffle balls, nom nom nom…  but that’s because they’ve ate plenty and had dessert, and By GOD, this is ONE thing I kept for myself.  And I feel guilty for THAT!  I can’t imagine the utter self-centeredness, truly clinical narcissism, the mother wallowed in.  Also, I can say with certainty to my kids that they’ve never gone hungry.  They may not like what’s in the cabinets, but there IS food… it’s just not ready-made junk for them to snack on. 

I read a few reviews of The Glass Castle, and one reader dinged the book because the author conveys such neglect and abuse in a very unemotional manner.  How could anyone suffer such a life without feeling a sense of indignity and injustice?  To this I must point out that Walls is a professional journalist, and relaying information in an objective, matter-of-fact way is part of the job, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.  Also, I think it’s a normal part of the coping skills of an abuse survivor to learn to be able to talk about it with some distance and disconnection.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a great story of resilience and survival.  I don’t recommend it to be read in one sitting, as it can get emotionally overwhelming, but definitely a worthwhile read.   If I could ask Walls one question, I’d want to know how she thinks her life might have turned out without public libraries and books to turn to.  At times, it seems the only escape the kids had and a part of her best memories.  I give The Glass Castle 4 out of 5 stars.

Advertisements

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle by Nan Marino

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan MarinoTitle:  Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Author:  Nan Marino

Hardcover:  160 pages

ISBN:  9781596434998

Challenges:  2009 ARC Reading Challenge

From the back of the book:

Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old.  The problem is that no one on Ramble Street knows it, but me.

Tamara Ann Simpson is tired of all the lies.  And boy, oh boy, can Muscle Man McGinty tell some whoppers!  When he does the unthinkable and challenges the entire block to a game of kickball, Tamara knows she’s found her opportunity to prove to everyone what a wormy little liar Muscle Man really is.  Of course things would be a lot easier if her best friend Kebsie Grobser were here to help her…

It’s the summer of 1969 and the world is getting ready for a young man named Neil Armstrong to make history by walking on the moon.  But change happens a bit more slowly in Massapequa Park, and it’ll take one giant leap for Tamara to understand the likes of Muscle Man McGinty.

I really enjoyed reading Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.  For me, this book was a trip into the past to my own childhood.  While the world of Indian Heights and that of Rumble Street were very different, and a good decade separated us, I could still cast the characters of the book with the kids from my own block.  I was, of course, Tamara.  I could totally relate to her, as I too never quite got the subtleties of the social game and all was black-and-white for me, as well.  I had a few Muscle Men at various stages growing up, people who seem to come along with the world undeservedly on their side.

There are lucky people in the world, and then there are people who always seem to find themselves knee-deep in trouble.  It’s not hard to guess which group I fall into.

If I were lucky, the morning of the us-against-Muscle Man game would be different.  I’d wake up to singing birds and sushine, scarf down a bowl of Apple Jacks, and be the first one standing on the Rattles’ front lawn.

But I’m a “trouble” person.  And that means I’m in deep water from the moment the day begins…

-page 54 in the ARE copy

Okay, so I’ve broke the three things hoped for in the publisher’s letter.  I didn’t read it in one setting in a comfy chair, but in about 5 sits… and in the car, and on the beach, then in the car, and finally in my bed.  I wasn’t born until 1973, so the trip to the moon was old hat by the time I was around, and I didn’t feel like calling anyone to ask them where they were.  And the front cover is about as much interest as my young readers care about the book because the sun is shining and the waves were coming in and the fair is today… and “Come on Mom, why are you still typing?!  We’re gonna miss the rides!  I’m hungry!  I want an elephant ear!  Let’s go, already!”

But Neil Armstrong is My Uncle is a fun book that is supposedly for the 8-12 set, but I never felt like I was reading a kids book, to be honest.  I just had a pleasant vacation into a safe past and for that I thank Nan Marino and Roaring Brook Press for the chance to read it 🙂  I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.  Oh, and be sure to heck out Nan Marino’s site at http://www.nanmarino.com/

BTT ~ The Library Is the Heart of a Community

btt2

Suggested by Barbara:

I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?

The trouble I have with borrowing books from the library is that I am horrible at reading them in a timely fashion and I can never decide on one book or two, so I just get all twenty; the result of these failings is that I end up with a lot of fines, my highest fine balance  being over a hundred dollars.  Instead of borrowing books from the library, I get books from BookMooch and PaperBackSwap, as well as buying them from the thrift stores and an occasional brand-new book from Wal-Mart (I used to be a permanent fixture at Waldenbooks, but Border’s shut our store down… I’m still grieving over that loss).

If I never brought home  another book, there are enough books in Mt. TBR’s inventory, and even more in the rest of my home library, to keep me busy for three or four years, maybe more.  What’s more, I also receive ARCs and books from publishers to review, so I doubt I’ll ever run out of books, barring a disaster like a fire or a book thief 😀

No, my main use of our local library is as a place to take my kids.  Our library has family movie events once a month, the last one we went to was “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” and shows for local artists and musicians.  They also have a monthly book sale, though the prices have gone up and up so I’ve gone less and less.  Our library also has a nice computer farm that occupy my kids, during which time I sit in a quiet corner away from everyone and read.

As we live about seven or so blocks from the library we walk there, which gives us time to enjoy the flowers and the world around us, as well as chat about whatever little thing crosses our minds.  A little over six years ago, we lived right behind the library and the kids went everyday, but now we go about once a week, sometimes more, and usually on Saturdays.  The library is a large part of our life, both as a source of entertainment as well as a backdrop for memories.

A few years ago, our library underwent a major renovation that brought the building into the 21st century.  With the installation of a gas fireplace and an open curving staircase with a glass ceiling and window walls, it went from a dreary cement box to one of the most beautiful libraries in our state and winning awards.  After the old one retired, the new director has enlarged the DVD, audio book, and music CD inventory a thousand percent, and has returned the library to public.

Some of my happiest childhood memories take place in a library, and I’m glad that I’m giving the same gift to my children. 🙂

Breaking Ramen Noodle Dawn

Friday Fill-Ins

1. My stomach has it’s own gravitational pull.
2. Ramen noodles is what I ate the most of on Thursday. (We’re having Thanksgiving dinner today 😉 )
3. The yard is a dangerous place in prison.
4. In the arms of my boyfriend is where I’d rather be at any given time.
5. The smell of toast reminds me of my mom making me breakfast when I was a kid.
6. A new computer is what I need right now!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to our city’s parade, tomorrow my plans include reading Breaking Dawn and Sunday, I want to finish Breaking Dawn! (okay, seriously, I got my bf into reading the Twilight series, and he’s been doing it with audio books, and now he’s on chapter 2 of BD, and I’m on chapter 7… only I’m actually READING… so if I’m going to stay ahead of him, I’m going to have to cook it!)