two female faces superimposed upon a desert landscape

The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls

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Literary Criticism and Significance

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The Glass Castle, published in 2005, enjoyed best-seller list status for over two years. The book has proven to be quite popular with readers as well as with reviewers. The writing style as well as Walls’s overall mood (which is surprisingly uplifting) has made a story that could have been downright morose into something that has captured the reader’s empathy and interest. As Francine Prose, writing for the New York Times Book Review put it, what is best about this memoir is the author’s “deceptive ease with which she makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure.”

An adventure, after all, was how Walls’s mother defined her children’s morbid childhoods. Emma Unsworth, writing for the Sunday Times (London) also went with the sense of adventure theme. Unsworth writes: “While such a story might suggest lives full of fragility, Walls is made of tough stuff and has clearly inherited a sense of adventure.”

Another reviewer, Helen Ubinas, writing for the Hartford Courant, praises Walls’s objective style, stating that it is easy “to admire the deft way she [Walls] sidesteps the sappy and/or searing pitfalls of memoir writing to present a clear sometimes hysterical, sometimes heartbreaking account of a family that in many ways defies definition.”

There have been a few reviewers who have questioned whether Walls has written the truth about her family and background. But there are just as many who have claimed that no one could have made up the bizarre experiences that the author and her siblings went through. But Kathleen Parker, writing for the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia found reasons to praise Walls’s strength and courage to write this memoir. Parker writes, “Her book is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of forgiveness.” Many critics agree. The stories that Walls recounts are difficult to believe. But as Olivia Glazebrook, writing for the London Spectator, puts it: “[The Glass Castle] is full of astonishing episodes, but the book is a success beyond its ability to shock.”

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