Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Child neglect...with love and best intentions

The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls

This was an unbelievably moving story of Jeannette's childhood - she grew up poor, on the verge of homelessness, with parents that obviously had psychological and emotional problems. Jeannette and her three siblings (older sister Lori, younger brother Brian, and younger sister Maureen) grow up in squalor, often on the brink of starvation, and struggling for any semblance of normalcy in their lives. They move from California to Arizona and finally to West Virginia, always swinging through boom and bust cycles of money that lasts for a few days to weeks and near-debilitating poverty for longer stretches of time.

I have a really low tolerance for stories about child abuse, I just can't stomach them, so I was hesitant to read The Glass Castle. There is no doubt that this book is full of child abuse in the form of neglect but, at the same time, the parents were not malicious in their neglect - they just didn't seem to have the mental awareness to fully grasp the seriousness of their situations - and actually seemed to love their children and want what was best for them. I was SO angry at the parents and their immaturity throughout the story and literally found my hand balled into a fist at some parts. There were some touching moments though when the parents did small things that regained some of your trust - isn't that what makes abusers so dangerous?

Despite all of the negative and truly sad aspects of this memoir, the kids (with the exception of Maureen) made extremely respectable lives for themselves. They all got out of small-town West Virginia, escaped the control of their parents, and became content adults in NYC. More than that, they supported each other; from childhood when they stood up for each other against the neighborhood kids, through adolescence when they all saved money to buy a bus ticket for the oldest sister, and adulthood when they got together for holiday dinners. Their love and support for each other was the most inspirational part of this story.

More than any book I have ever read, The Glass Castle illustrated the conflicted feelings that neglected children feel toward their parents and different side of poverty and homelessness. This definitely had many dark moments but the story was overall full of hope and written in such a stark, matter-of-fact manner that it will stay with me for a very long time.


  1. Great review, Nicole! I had great problems seeing how the parents could let their children live like that. In the end it was an uplifting story because of how the children stuck together and helped each other out.

    Do you think it was despite or because of their deprived childhood that they made good lives for themselves? I wonder how they would have done if they had been just a little higher on the social ladder. Maybe they wouldn't have tried so hard to get out of their situation.

    JudithAnn from Shelfari, here incognito as Leeswammes

  2. I also had a huge problem with the parents neglect; as I mentioned, I was so angry with them most of the book because of the decisions they made. I didn't forgive them just because their neglect lacked maliciousness and hate, it was just an interesting spin.

    I think if they would have had a decent childhood then they probably would have ended up in about the same place but possibly without as much drive and dedication. I would bet money though that they would have rather had a bit more food and baths when they were little!