By: Abigail Chaff
At first, “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls does not seem to be any different from other standard assigned readings. It is the story of Walls’ childhood; she grew up extremely poor and in conditions probably fitting the category of child abuse. Along with her seemingly mentally ill mother and alcoholic father, she moved constantly because her father was convinced the FBI was after them.
However, with each turn of the page, it becomes clear this is no ordinary memoir. Walls’ life wasn’t just difficult – at times it was appalling. We watch the movie “Precious” win awards and think we’re doing something by caring, but reading the true story of Walls’ life actually leaves one with a sense of unity, not just abject sympathy.
The brutal honesty of her story pulls emotion toward the understanding that you never really know what someone is going through or what he or she has overcome. I felt a connection to Walls that I do not often find in books like this. The images of the shack she lived in, sharing cat food with her siblings, of falling out of the car when her father was too drunk to drive, all seemed too outlandish. I thought for sure she made it all up.
In many interviews with Walls, she mentions her fear of the response from the people in her life after she revealed the realities of her childhood that she tried to keep a secret. She was surprised at the acceptance her story received and it made her realize that there is nothing too difficult or too different for people to understand, because in some ways we are all the same. Everyone has something he or she would like to forget. For Walls to share her story shows others there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and never to be ashamed of what has made you who you are.
“It showed me that what I went through growing up wasn’t impossible to get through and I can be successful in my life, too,” UA student Helen Duaka said.
It is a story of great success. The fact that she overcame growing up in poverty to go on to be the renowned author she is today is something of a Cinderella story. But this story does not preach or push some moral high ground found through deprivation.
Walls writes in such a way that everyone can find his or her own meaning in the story. Walls started from a place some people cannot even imagine and arrived at the other extreme of happiness and success.
“Reading many of the things that Jeannette went through in her life makes me realize that I should appreciate my life a lot more than I have for the past 18 years,” UA student Erica Glazer said.
The strength Walls has to carry on through such hardship speaks even to those whose childhood was stable and nothing like hers.
“Her parents were brilliant idiots,” UA student Johnica Turner said. “They had the intelligence to do a lot of great things, but never took the time to stay focused on their kids, which were the most important.”
To become your own successful person despite such a lack of guidance is a lesson to all to never give up.