Nancy Keane's Booktalks -- Quick and Simple

Walls, Jeannette.
New York : Scribner, 2005
ISBN 0743247531

(5 booktalks)

Click on the book to read Amazon reviews
Booktalk #1

Let’s look into the future: do you see yourself in a limo, dressed for the evening in a gorgeous gown? As you step from the taxi, really, do you see your mother rooting through a dumpster?

So begins Jeannette Walls’ memoir of her childhood, a tale of a childhood spent wondering if you were going to eat at all that night.

Memories emerge from a girl-hood with an alcoholic, but adored, father, whose desire is to build a glass house (castle) for his family and his favorite daughter. Without money for Christmas presents, he takes each of his children into the Arizona desert and “allows” them to “choose” a star.

However, home is not easy or sweet. Jeannette remembers her mother, an artist who can't seem to deal with the day-to-day activities, or even help her children. Jeannette feeds herself at school by going through the garbage cans after lunch, or outright stealing food from other children's’ lunch-bags.

This tale of sinking into the depths, of escaping, and of an incredibly dysfunctional family is not for everyone. Dad has a horrible, swearing style that may not be appropriate for some students. This is a memoir, and while honest, at times funny, at times sad, it is at times shocking.

(Booktalk by Mary Jo Heller, Shoreline School District for the Evergreen Young Adult Book award, 2007-2008)

Booktalk #2

Don't take that thermostat for granted! Running water is very nice too, and electricity--

Jeannette Walls is a sophisticated gossip columnist who gets invited to Hollywood premieres, and she's hidden the truth about where she came from for years.

Jeannette was raised in California, Nevada, Phoenix and Welch, West Virginia and her parents were not interested in holding regular jobs or having normal conveniences. Day-to-day living for her and her family was an adventure: eating out of dumpsters; sleeping on cardboard boxes; homemade orthodontia. and "doing the skedaddle" whenever the bills came due.

Her father, who ran their whole crazy, homeless lifestyle had big dreams and big plans: including building a fantastic "glass castle" for his family. But he also drank and swore and stole--!

So each of the kids must make their escape to New York in turn: this is their bizarre, but true story!

Read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

(Booktalk by Matt Laxton, Sno-Isle Regional Library System for the Evergreen Young Adult Book award, 2007-2008)

Booktalk #3

Jeannette Walls, now a freelance writer, writes of the poverty, hunger, jokes, and bullying that she and her siblings endured while growing up. Her mother, unwilling to assume the responsibilities of parenting, and her father, an alcoholic, taught their children to fend for themselves.  (Florida Teen Reads nominee, 2007-2008)  (mature readers)

Booktalk #4

It is just the “luck of the draw” as to the kind of family into which one will be born, and there is no way of telling how the story ends until one has lived the tale. Thus Jeanette Walls writes the story for many who held their shoes together with safety pins, wore feed sack dresses, carried milk to school in a lard bucket, and had dead beat weekend drunks and dreamers for dads. 

While much of The Glass Castle is a nomadic tale, the strength and the rawness of the story is set in the ravaged hills of Welch, West Virginia’s coal fields. In the summer, coal smut covers everything. In winter when the snow comes, its pristine flakes hide the smut only to be revealed in a tarry sludge blacker and nastier than the summer soot once the sun shines. There Rose Mary’s sign, R. M. Walls Art Studio, setting in the front yard, is not out place among the spare pieces that might come in handy sometime. Lori’s bug-eyed glasses are not unusual. Child molestation is common but silenced either through fear or ignorance, or perhaps both.

The narrator allows and encourages her father to build glass castles while her mother paints pictures worthy of exhibition.  However, she does not escape the reality of her surroundings and understands that a handout in New York City is not unlike a handout in Welch, West Virginia.  She accepts where she comes from and objectively articulates the beauty of familial love among the ragged cruelties of relatives, friends, and neighbors.  There is no doubt that the Walls family members loved each other and found some gaiety in being destitute and poor.  Sexual abuse, a pimping dad, and other childhood atrocities leave bitter memories but no searing scars.  The family’s lack of conventionalism isolated them wherever they lived and perhaps provided the stamina needed to endure emotional pain that would have dammed other bodies and souls.   (Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers, 2007-2008)

Booktalk #5

Jeanette Walls is a successful gossip reporter for MSNBC, but until she wrote The Glass Castle she harbored a family secret. While she was enjoying a glamorous New York City lifestyle, her own parents were living on the streets, rooting through dumpsters for food and wearing rags to stay warm. The story of this supremely dysfunctional family began in Arizona, where Walls’ earliest memory is of being set on fire at age three while cooking hot dogs for dinner. Walls’ alcoholic father and artist mother moved their four children from place to place whenever the bills piled up, eventually landing in Welch, West Virginia, near their paternal grandparents. Here their father encouraged the children to dig a large hole for the foundation of the palace he planned to build for them, the “Glass Castle” of the memoir’s title. But they couldn’t afford the town’s trash collection fee, and the hole for the Glass Castle’s foundation became the family dump. Meanwhile, the Walls children survived neglect, hunger, ridicule, and abuse. This gripping memoir reveals how the author survived her childhood, escaping the cycle of poverty, and how the long shadow of her parents’ unconventional lifestyle eventually caught up with her. (Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards Program, 2009-2010)

SUBJECTS:     Walls, Jeannette.
                        Children of alcoholics -- Biography.
                        Problem families -- Case studies.
                        Poor Welch (W. Va.) -- Biography.
                        Homeless persons -- New York (N.Y.)

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