Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn
nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and
Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived
like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the
mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober,
captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics,
geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary,
who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of
providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict."
Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no
appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering
life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining
town-and the family-Rex Walls had done everything he could to
escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for
days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her
brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one
another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally,
found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that
she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that
she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity.
Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender,
moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its
profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a
successful life on her own terms.
For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells
her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New
York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.
Jeannette Walls was born in Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated from Barnard College and was a journalist in New York City for twenty years. Her books include the memoir The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel.
A #1 BookSense Reading Group Pick!
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette
Reading Group Guide
1. Though The Glass Castle is brimming with
unforgettable stories, which scenes were the most memorable for
you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, the
2. Discuss the metaphor of a glass castle and what it signifies
to Jeannette and her father. Why is it important that, just before
leaving for New York, Jeannette tells her father that she doesn''t
believe he''ll ever build it? (p. 238).
3. The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her
burning herself severely at age three, and her father dramatically
takes her from the hospital: "You''re safe now" (p. 14). Why do you
think she opens with that story, and how does it set the stage for
the rest of the memoir?
4. Rex Walls often asked his children, "Have I ever let you
down?" Why was this question (and the required "No, Dad" response)
so important for him -- and for his kids? On what occasions did he
actually come through for them?
5. Jeannette''s mother insists that, no matter what, "life with
your father was never boring" (p. 288). What kind of man was Rex
Walls? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his flaws and
6. Discuss Rose Mary Walls. What did you think about her
description of herself as an "excitement addict"? (p. 93).
7. Though it portrays an incredibly hardscrabble life, The
Glass Castle is never sad or depressing. Discuss the tone of
the book, and how do you think that Walls achieved that effect?
8 Describe Jeannette''s relationship to her siblings and discuss
the role they played in one another''s lives.
9. In college, Jeannette is singled out by a professor for not
understanding the plight of homeless people; instead of defending
herself, she keeps quiet. Why do you think she does this?
10. The two major pieces of the memoir -- one half set in the
desert and one half in West Virginia -- feel distinct. What effect
did such a big move have on the family -- and on your reading of
the story? How would you describe the shift in the book''s
11. Were you surprised to learn that, as adults, Jeannette and
her siblings remained close to their parents? Why do you think this
12. What character traits -- both good and bad -- do you think
that Jeannette inherited from her parents? And how do you think
those traits shaped Jeannette''s life?
13. For many reviewers and readers, the most extraordinary thing
about The Glass Castle is that, despite everything,
Jeannette Walls refuses to condemn her parents. Were you able to be
14. Like Mary Karr''s Liars'' Club and Rick Bragg''s
All Over But the Shoutin'', Jeannette Walls'' The
Glass Castle tells the story of a wildly original (and wildly
dysfunctional) family with humor and compassion. Were their other
comparable memoirs that came to mind? What distinguishes this
In the tradition of Mary Karr's "The Liars' Club" and Rick Bragg's "All Over But the Shouting," Jeannette Walls has written a stunning and life-affirming memoir about surviving a willfully impoverished, eccentric and severely misguided family.