Literary Criticism and Significance

Walls's The Glass Castle is a memoir that many reviewers admitted that they had trouble putting down. Readers agreed, as it became a bestseller and was translated into several different languages. So it is no surprise that Walls would want to write another book about her unusual family. To this end, she thought she should tell her mother's story. But Walls's mother insisted that the real story behind Walls's life was that of her grandmother, Lily Casey. And thus, the fictionalized biography of Walls's grandmother, Half Broke Horses (2009), was created. The book has since received mixed reviews.

Susan Schwartz, writing for Montreal's Gazette stated that Half Broke Horses, especially in comparison to The Glass Castle, "lacks soul."Schwartz pointed out that in attempting to tell this story through her grandmother's voice, rather than her own, Walls lost authenticity.Schwartz also compared the prose of The Glass Castle to that in Half Broke Horses. The first, Schwartz found "elegant," but in the second book, Schwartz described the writing as being "hackneyed in places."

Another reviewer, Karen Brady, writing for the Buffalo News, found that Walls's "feel for time and place is often stunning." However, Brady was also disappointed with some of Walls's techniques. "The book is full of New Age aphorisms and pat little endings," Brady wrote. Overall, though, Brady was taken by the story. Brady even suggested that Walls should try her hand at a purely fictionalized story "unfettered by a loyalty to family facts."

London's reviewer John O'Connell, writing for the Times, wrote that Half Broke Horses "has immense power and readability." The story of Walls's grandmother is interesting, the reviewer wrote, but O'Connell said there were too many gaps, as if the reader were merely given small glimpses into Lily Casey's life. O'Connell said that some of the writing reminded him of "an educational book" written for children.

"Walls is a master of capturing action," wrote Robin Vidimos, for theDenver Post. But Vidimos was a little confused about what motivated Lily Casey, the main character of this story. However Vidimos complimented Walls for writing a story that captured Lily's "voice and life events." Another reviewer, Marie Arana, writing for the Washington Post, found some of the details of Half Broke Horsesinteresting, especially for those who had previously read Walls's The Glass Castleand wanted to know more about Walls family. But Arana wrote that the book failed as a work of fiction. "There is little sparkle or narrative drive."Arana added that the prose was "flat" and "unimaginative." This reviewer, however, did praise the book for being a "commendable chronicle of an admirably tough woman."