The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls


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Now a major motion picture from Lionsgate starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts.

The perennially bestselling, extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, “nothing short of spectacular” (Entertainment Weekly) memoir from one of the world’s most gifted storytellers.

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743247542
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/09/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 714
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jeannette Walls graduated from Barnard College and was a journalist in New York. Her memoir, The Glass Castle, has been a New York Times bestseller for more than six years. She is also the author of the instant New York Times bestsellers The Silver Star and Half Broke Horses, which was named one of the ten best books of 2009 by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. Walls lives in rural Virginia with her husband, the writer John Taylor.


Culpeper, Virginia

Date of Birth:

April 21, 1960

Place of Birth:

Phoenix, Arizona


B.A., Barnard College, 1984

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom's gestures were all familiar — the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she'd hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she'd been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.

It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she'd see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.

I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.

I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I'd collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I'd had framed, the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the end of the day. I'd tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.

What could I do? I'd tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist they didn't need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the way they wanted to.

After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn't see me, I hated myself — hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I called a friend of Mom's and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we'd had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.

Mom was sitting at a booth, studying the menu, when I arrived. She'd made an effort to fix herself up. She wore a bulky gray sweater with only a few light stains, and black leather men's shoes. She'd washed her face, but her neck and temples were still dark with grime.

She waved enthusiastically when she saw me. "It's my baby girl!" she called out. I kissed her cheek. Mom had dumped all the plastic packets of soy sauce and duck sauce and hot-and-spicy mustard from the table into her purse. Now she emptied a wooden bowl of dried noodles into it as well. "A little snack for later on," she explained.

We ordered. Mom chose the Seafood Delight. "You know how I love my seafood," she said.

She started talking about Picasso. She'd seen a retrospective of his work and decided he was hugely overrated. All the cubist stuff was gimmicky, as far as she was concerned. He hadn't really done anything worthwhile after his Rose Period.

"I'm worried about you," I said. "Tell me what I can do to help."

Her smile faded. "What makes you think I need your help?"

"I'm not rich," I said. "But I have some money. Tell me what it is you need."

She thought for a moment. "I could use an electrolysis treatment."

"Be serious."

"I am serious. If a woman looks good, she feels good."

"Come on, Mom." I felt my shoulders tightening up, the way they invariably did during these conversations. "I'm talking about something that could help you change your life, make it better."

"You want to help me change my life?" Mom asked. "I'm fine. You're the one who needs help. Your values are all confused."

"Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days ago."

"Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It's my way of recycling." She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. "Why didn't you say hello?"

"I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid."

Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. "You see?" she said. "Right there. That's exactly what I'm saying. You're way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it."

"And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?"

"Just tell the truth," Mom said. "That's simple enough."

Copyright © 2005 by Jeannette Walls

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Jeannette Walls has carved a story with precision and grace out of one of the most chaotic, heartbreaking childhoods ever to be set down on the page. This deeply affecting memoir is a triumph in every possible way, and it does what all good books should: it affirms our faith in the human spirit."

— Dani Shapiro, author of Family History

"The Glass Castle is the saga of the restless, indomitable Walls family, led by a grand eccentric and his tempestuous artist wife. Jeannette Walls has survived poverty, fires, and near starvation to triumph. She has written this amazing tale with honesty and love."

— Patricia Bosworth, author of Anything Your Little Heart Desires and Diane Arbus: A Biography

"Just read the first pages of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I defy you not to go on. It's funny and sad and quirky and loving. I was incredibly touched by it."

— Dominick Dunne, author of The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper

Reading Group Guide

Topics & Questions for Discussion

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 funniest?

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 contradictions?

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 tone?

11. Were you surprised to learn that, as adults, Jeannette and her siblings remained close to their parents? Why do you think this is?

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 equally nonjudgmental?

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 book?

Customer Reviews

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The Glass Castle 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2560 reviews.
devin10 More than 1 year ago
The Glass Castle is a inspiring novel that really deals with problems that many face, neglection. The mother doesn't care enough to be a true mom, and the father is too busy getting drunk to care in a fatherly way. Which leaves the children with a lot to be desired. In a quest for independence and to find a way through life the children separate and it shows many different paths life can lead you down..It is truly an inspirational book, that shows you don't need someone always and to never give up. I really recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THIS IS AN OUTSTANDING, WELL WRITTEN BOOK. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wall is the type of book that makes you want to give your parents a hug and thank them for being such wonderful parents, no matter how bad they were. Wall was raised by free spirits who want their children to become toughened by life and believe firmly in survival of the fittest. Her mother wants to be an artist and not to be bothered by the inconvenience of feeding and caring for her children. Her father is brilliantly smart but also a vicious drunk. Every time I thought that her childhood couldn't get any worse, I would turn the page. Which is worse? The Christmas he lit the entire Christmas tree on fire (on purpose) destroying their presents or the time he chased his pregnant wife with the car through the desert at night until he pinned her against a rock wall. Wall's story of perserverance through adversity is inspiring and amazing. You can't help but admire the courage it took to survive what she did and accomplish everything she has since. I finished it last night, and today I realized I was a bit sad that I didn't have any more of their crazy life stories to read about!
NordicSun More than 1 year ago
I've had the pleasure to teach a college class on memoir since 2002, but must admit I've never had watched a memoir garner such reaction, praise, attachment, and fervor in the class before this one. Readers in my course, both young and middle aged, are held by the divided souls in this book, by its perils, defenses for neglect, overcoming, awful truths, painful secrets, shame, sarcasm, love always love, wit, and pluck. Its style holds us, and its saga of overcoming moves all. You will put the book down upon finishing, but you will never be able to quit the Walls' family. Jeannette Walls has one amazing heart. I am honored that she has shared it with us.
Xroce_Rossa More than 1 year ago
Nowadays, everyone grunts about how hard their life in recession is and they point fingers at Wall St., White House, Mid-East, and national debts. However, they should understand that those aren't quite like what we call hardships, but laments. Jeannette Walls's Glass Castle shows truly unimaginable hardship on a tight rope and her brave escape from her family's seemingly never-ending impoverished fate. It is truly inspiring book! When I first grabbed this book for my high school English Class, I thought it would one of those stories of a penniless country kid in shanty farm going to the big cities and be a millionaire. However, Jeannette's life didn't end up as a millionaire--she's a journalist now and it seems that she has a natural talent of journalism. Her story swings the readers in excitement and horror with her powerful narration; her tragicomic memoirs are full of adventures, conflicts, and passion that we simply cannot put down. Through her memoirs, we actually can feel the exuberance, pain, fear and hope.
Danester More than 1 year ago
Wow, this book is an amazing tale of alcoholism, mental illness, despair, tragedy, strength, love, family, loyalty and survival. This book is impossible to put down. True page turner. I could not believe what I was reading. The author's family is fascinating. A powerful story of the human beings ability to survive and become successful in spite of great deprivation. I think this kind of story shows that children are much stronger than any of us give them credit for. Sometimes I think the more a child has to develop its resourcefulness the more successful she is as an adult. Granted, lots of therapy may be needed.
XXXOOOBookwormOOOXXX More than 1 year ago
This is a uniquely American story that wanders all over the landscape from California and Arizona to West Virginia and New York. Although we see the cruelty with which these neglected chilidren are treated, we also see the people who help them and their own protection of their family. As Jeannette views it, the worst possible thing would be separation from her siblings, and I'm inclined to agree with her. Certainly, this book tests my assumption that children get their values from their parents. The Walls children formed theirs in opposition to their parents' in many ways, but they also managed to hang onto the dogged independence and sense of wonder that they admired in Mom and Dad. I love this book! It gave me a chance to compare it to my childhood. Jeannette and her siblings lived a life full of turmoil and hunger. Hunger for food but also for normalcy. My heart aches for the whole family but it made them who they are today. I am familiar with this. I found nothing wrong with this book in anyway. I did find everything and many things right with it. It is an education for many a reader. I way also, to open ones eyes! Thank You Jeannette for sharing, I will forever be grateful!  I learned much from this book because it is a story of a family where the children were neglected and abused and yet they found the strength and hope to not remain victims and it seems some of them went so far as to forgive. The author shares exquisitely how they lived and survived in unthinkable and deprived conditions where they starved and rummaged through garbage. Their parents professed they loved their children but their ability to do so was hampered by the father's alcoholism and the mother's narcissistic tendencies. In any case these kids had a very interesting life as they were dragged all over the country from town to town avoiding bills and trouble by parents who were actually quite bright to manage this lifestyle with four children in tow. A must read.    
CZCD More than 1 year ago
Jeanette Walls takes the reader into her life, holding our hand throughout, as though we were there with her. We meet her as a child, as she remembers the many instances of hunger and want she experienced while growing up. We feel the pain that she does not whimper to us; we bear her burden under which she does not complain; we trudge through the mud and live in the shambles of her childhood and adolescence along with her and her siblings, and we grow stronger with her. This is a remarkable tale, all the more so since it is a recording of her life rather than a fictional account based on imagination. Never before have I touched the depths of the disorder and want that Walls experienced nor seen the genuine triumph of the human being to such great heights. My heart twists and my eyes tear as I consider the whole of this book...the senselessness of those who hold the keys of order and peace to their children's lives...the parents...enough MUST read this book!
marianne68 More than 1 year ago
What a book. I really enjoyed this one and recommended this to my friends.
andre66 More than 1 year ago
this book is very enlightening, the girl is very strong yet i still feel that she should give a bit more about maureen. i would like to know more about her life and what she is doing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down!!
Hot4Books More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure if I would like this book going in knowing it was a memoir of some girl's childhood and upbringing. However, after getting into the book I realized the life of Jeannette Walls was anything but a typical childhood story. I myself could not relate to even one aspect of her crazy life, but that made the book so much more interesting. The stories of this American family are outrageous, sometime they left me feeling heartbroken and at other times I fell in love with every member of the Walls family, even Rex and Rosemary. Jeannette and Her siblings are amazing and heroic, overcoming all odds to come out on top. A great story with all happy endings! Glad I gave this book a chancee :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Jeanette Walls is a wonderful storyteller. I was completely absorbed in the book and could not put it down until it was finished. I experienced a full range of emotion while reading this book. Jeanette's ability to overcome the poverty and obstacles of her youth is truely inspiring. Since reading this book myself, I have purchased copies to give to loved ones. This is one for your personal library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You will put the book down upon finishing, but you will never be able to quit the Walls' family. and Take a Barnes $10 Off coupons code from
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book absolutly inspiring! I would recommend this book for adults and children that can understand the description. I loved this book! It is a true story about a womans life. Almost like a biography. Totally worth buying! Money will be worth spent!! It will make you feel like you are her, like you are in the story!
Jasper_ More than 1 year ago
The story of this family takes you right along with them on their journey from the first page. You feel cold, hot, sad and redeemed right along with them. What a gift to make the horrors of mental illness, poverty and tough luck into a compelling hopeful story.
LoveLaughter More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Jeannette Walls took me into her childhood and her family. My childhood was also traumatic and I took great comfort while reading this book, that someone else went through similar things that I did. It was easy to read, very compelling, I didn't want to put it down! I even felt compelled to email her when I was done to let her know how much I enjoyed the book.
ReaderRader More than 1 year ago
I found this book off a friend, who mentioned the book without explaining the book. As soon as the story started I was hooked, two days later and a lot of neglected chores, I finished the book. This lady had a very interesting and sad life. It was sad becuase you feel really bad for her and the things she had to go through, but you relaize how resilient children can be in tough times. It proved that children do not need to be given everything to succed and love life, but really, her parents could have given her more than what they did. It was in my opinion a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book first of all was a true life story, This book was meaningful but also inspiring showing how she went from a little poor girl from welch, West Virginia to a big reporter in new york cit. this book showed how having a hard childhood can make u an even better person overall. all in all this book was amazing, inspiring, and overall just a good read. you will find yourself deep in thought wondering what is going to happen next. You should definatly pick this book up at your local barnes and Noble.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I have read it three times and I would read it again. The author creates such a picture with her words, you feel like you are in the scenes. You almost feel sorry for the author (who is the main character in the book) and jealous of her life at the same time. She had a crazy, and wild upbringing which she describes beautifully. I recommend this book to anyone. It would be a great book club addition. I suggest you add it next month! This book would make a good gift for anyone you are looking to buy a gift for. You will enjoy reading this book. I promise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Castle Glimmers "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." With a first sentence like that, you know you're in for a treat of a book. The unbelievable part is that this is true story. Jeannette Walls invites us to view her amazing life in The Glass Castle. Normally, I am not a fan of memoirs. There're either composed of sugary-sweet slice of life tales or of self-pity and cries for attention. The Glass Castle strikes a perfect between uplifting and realistic. Walls tells her triumphant tale without an ounce of the afore mentioned self-pity, even though she rightfully could. Walls grew up with an alcoholic dreamer of a father and a "live and let live" type, free spirit mother. They did things "Rex Wells style" aka breaking out of hospitals before paying and leaving town any time they pleased, disregarding bill collectors as "mafia members out to get them".
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure if I would like The Glass Castle. However, i enjoyed it. It is the type of book that makes you realize that your life isn't so bad. I would recommend this book to everyone because Jenette Walls is an engaging reader. The only person that I couldn't stomach was her mom.
main-page More than 1 year ago
This book made me realize that my own childhood was a lot easier than I thought it was. Interesting family dynamics and although I wanted to like the free spirited parents I found it difficult to reconcile the drastic effects their choices had on the children. It was inspiring to realize that despite (or maybe because of) the difficulties of their childhood, the children became successful adults.
supmonday More than 1 year ago
Walls is an amazing writer with an even more thrilling and amazing story. This book is uplifting and inspiring. The reader really feels a part of the story and there are times where you will want to reach into the book and save these children. You will be shocked, warmed, dumbfounded, and enraptured by this book. I tell everyone that I meet: YOU MUST READ IT!
MollyO More than 1 year ago
You won't be able to put this book down. Amazing stories lurk around the turn of each page, you won't be able to stop until you know what happens next...and next...and next...until you're done with the book. Her story is not only bewildering but an inspiration. It's amazing how strong people can really be and the lives that each of us lead can be so much deeper than we imagine. Read this book.
JacquelineB7D More than 1 year ago
Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle, never lived in an ordinary, peaceful home. Her family, included her crazy, uncaring parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, and her loving, and supporting siblings, Lori, Brian, and Maureen. Her father, Rex, was a very violent person, when he was drunk. When sober, he was an intelligent man and gave his children knowledge not taught in a regular school, such as learning how to signal Morse code. Jeanette's mother, Rose Mary, was an artist and hated to be distracted by taking care of her own family. She often tells her family that they are holding her career back with their demands of essentials, like food and clothing. Since Jeannette Walls' mother was an artist, a lot of their money was spent on her supplies. Rex was mostly paid minimum wage, and fired from plenty of jobs. That made the family's money limited, and caused them to move from one unknown, rural town to another. "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 s***-hole behind,' he hollered. We had fifteen minutes to gather whatever we needed and pile into the car." pg. 17. Here, this passage shows how the family's life has always been. It was almost like a monthly routine. Every couple of months they would just pack up and leave, when in trouble. What really kept their family together were the children, Jeannette, Lori, Brian, and Maureen. They would collect bottles and other recyclables so they could return them for money. Though that was not a lot, it made them feel like they were helping their family, making a difference. They cared for each other when one was in need and distress, and would say, "every thing will be ok", though that really was not the case. It just gave them back their hope and reason to keep trying. Even though they weren't exactly well off, all of their family always had dreams. It was to build there own home, called the Glass Castle, so that it was eco-friendly and could replenish their every need. This dream made their family have at least one thing in common, and it always gave them a sense of happiness.. The incidents in this story of Jeannette Walls' life will shock you in a way of despair but also thrill. Each chapter of this New York Times Best Seller is what will keep you reading more and more. The chapters seem so different from each other, but they really follow her life like any other book. Some of the outcomes are forlorn, yet some will just have you intrigued by the things said and done. It makes you truly appreciate the things your parents give and do for you. This book's over all story is light- hearted and happy, unlike what people think. In my opinion, I think this book is great for anyone, especially people who love to read about crazy adventures in deserts and other places. This book will grab your attention in a different way. Every page will inspire you, as it tells the tale of a girl who has to fight for her siblings and her own life. Jeannette Walls' is an outstanding writer. She can make her life story filled with sorrow seem upbeat and hysterical with the turn of a page. I do not understand how she can remember the vivid details of her child hood, but that is what makes the book absorbing and stimulating. There really are not enough words to describe the feelings you get when you read just a page of this book. But I can certainly say that no one can think this is a boring book.