Study Guide

The Glass Castle

By Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle Introduction

Some people say our society has gone overboard with safety precautions. Playgrounds are coated in rubber, and every corner is a soft, rounded edge. Kids practically have to wear helmets just to go outside. And some brat always ruins the latest fun toy for everyone by sticking it up his nose and getting the thing recalled.

Back in Jeannette Walls' day, she cooked her own hot dogs when she was three years old, lived in a house with faulty wiring that electrocuted members of her family on a daily basis, and defended herself against neighborhood bullies by building a catapult to assault them with giant rocks. If Jeannette Walls saw a squishy NERF bat, she'd set it on fire.

Who in the fiery heck is Jeannette Walls, you ask? She's the author of The Glass Castle, a 2005 memoir about growing up with parents who could be nicely described as bohemian nomads—and meanly described as deadbeat losers. Despite her difficult upbringing, Jeannette perseveres and becomes a successful journalist living in New York City. She is happy but conflicted: because her parents are still homeless. So she writes her memoir to work through her feelings and share her story.

Jeannette is nothing like her parents, a failed artist and an alcoholic who could barely hold down a job. Okay, that's not quite true: her dad was an amazing storyteller (or liar, depending on how you look at it), and Jeannette inherited those storytelling talents. She turns memoir into an art.

With The Glass Castle hanging out on the New York Times bestseller list for 261 weeks—that's over five years, folks—Walls wrote Half-Broke Horses (2009), a "true-life novel" about her maternal grandmother, and The Silver Star (2013), a novel about another dysfunctional family, this one entirely fictional.

A book that sells almost three million copies is pretty much guaranteed to become a movie. The Glass Castle has been in development in Hollywood for years, with Jennifer Lawrence once attached to the role of Jeannette. But as of October 2015, up-and-coming superstar Brie Larson is scheduled to play Jeannette.

Sure, the Walls family lives on the edge, but the most dangerous thing that could happen to you while reading The Glass Castle is that you could get a paper cut—or drop your e-reader in the bathtub. So set yourself up in a dry place, and open up The Glass Castle. It's quite the page-turner. Just turn the pages very, very carefully.

What is The Glass Castle About and Why Should I Care?

Every week a new celebrity memoir comes out. Leah Remini shares her story of escaping Scientology and the iron grip of Tom Cruise. Tina Fey writes about her road to success at 30 Rockefeller Center. Hey, all of us have a life story, but what makes some stories more entertaining than others? (Pro-Tip: if all you do is sit at home and read celebrity memoirs, as fun as they may be, you are probably not one of those cool cats with an interesting life story.)

People read memoirs for a variety of reasons. We're nosy, and we want to know the intimate details about another person's life. We like reading stories about crazy families so that we can say, "Whew, at least my family isn't that crazy," or, "Honey, you haven't seen crazy if this is all you've got to say." And we like reading true stories about people succeeding, because it gives us hope that we can make something of ourselves, too.

The Glass Castle hits a home run, covering all those bases. Jeannette dishes juicy details about her nutso family, and she's able to do so because she's made a life for herself as a successful journalist. Unlike a novel, in which anything is possible, this is real life, and in many ways it's stranger than fiction—which makes it even more inspirational. If Jeannette can go from literally living in a trash heap filled with rats to the top of bestseller charts, you can, too.

The Glass Castle Resources

Websites

Dollar Dollar Bills
You can bet Simon and Schuster is very happy about The Glass Castle spending so many years on the bestseller list.

Movie or TV Productions

Brie and Whine
Fans whine about the movie's delay, but Brie Larson recently signed on to play the lead, so things are on the move.

Articles and Interviews

Her Mother's Keeper
This Guardian article is like an expanded prologue and epilogue to The Glass Castle—and you don't even have to dig it out of Jeannette's trash can to read it.

The Jeannette Signal
Jeannette isn't Batman, but Gothamist spoke to her about her secret identity—her scandalous family history, which she used to never tell people about.

The Glass Closet
Before writing The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls, as a gossip columnist, aired other folks' dirty laundry. She basically outed Matt Drudge in 2000.

Video

The Walls Report
No joke, but Jeannette totally told her story to Stephen Colbert in 2007.

Not-So-Magical
Jeannette isn't from Boston, so when she says her childhood was "wicked," it's not necessarily a good thing.

Shame, Less
Anyone who wanted to reveal a secret in 2005 did it by telling it to Oprah. Jeannette was no different.

Transcontinental Transactions
Scottish and Southern accents collide when Jeannette Walls speaks to Craig Ferguson.

Audio

NOW on the News
Jeannette talks to Maria Hinojosa with NOW on the news about being in poverty THEN.

"Prequel" is Worth 68 Points in Scrabble
When MPR talks to Jeannette about her "hardscrabble" childhood, they don't mean she always got stuck with the Q tile in the popular board game.

Images

Jeanette and Pet
Here's a rare photo of the Walls siblings. Rare because they haven't gotten rid of that cat yet.

Re-Covered
This fan reimagined The Glass Castle as an anime. All it needs now is giant robots.