Jeannette Walls is the author of the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle, published in 2005. In Half Broke Horses, Walls tells the story of her parents and siblings, and of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.
Lily was raised on two different ranches. The first was in the Texas desert and then later her family moved to another bigger ranch in New Mexico. Both places were hard places to make a living, and Lily's life reflected these challenges. Lily had a difficult childhood. Her father was disabled and her mother considered herself "too frail" to work. So from an early age, Lily learned to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. By the time she reached her teens, Lily had left the family and was teaching in one-room schoolhouses in isolated locations in the Southwest. She learned to be self-reliant. Although her circumstances were often challenging, she was a survivor, never giving up no matter how difficult her life became. She learned to break wild horses and to stand up for her rights. When she moved to Chicago and fell in love, only to discover that the man she had married was a bigamist, Lily confronted him and had her marriage annulled. She later landed jobs for which she had no training. However, she dreamed of becoming a pilot, even though she knew nothing of planes. She was a woman who was not afraid of working hard and reaching for the impossible. It is through the telling of Lily's story that readers gain a glimpse of what it was like for women living in the West in the early part of the twentieth century.
Although critics have found this story easy to read, many have criticized the author's writing style. Judith Evans, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, found that the first-person voice that Walls uses in Half Broke Horses "somehow lacks the immediacy of the prose" in Walls's first memoir. However, Augusta Scattergood, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, stated that Half Broke Horses is a book that reads "like a lively oral history," that is "both dramatic and straightforward."