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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Review - The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Amazon summary:
Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim... --Brangien Davis -

After seeing Joann's review of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I decided to review another banned memoir, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The Glass Castle was challenged at the William S. Hart Union High School District in Saugus, Calif. (2009) as required summer reading for the honors English program citing profanity, criticisms of Christianity, and accounts of sexual abuse and prostitution. The decision was that students would have the option of alternative assignments. As Joann says, how can a true account of someone's life be banned??? That's like pretending it never happened, and honestly, I just don't understand it. How is that high school kids, HONORS high school kids, are not old enough or mature enough to read about abuse and neglect? Are these parents living under a rock? The US poverty rate last year was 14.3%. According to a CNN report, 1 in 50 children is homeless in the United States every year. This is something that could be happening to the person sitting next to these students in homeroom. Granted most homeless children don't face the things that Walls chronicles in her memoir, but to a certain extent I think that many children could relate to the things Walls talks about. I know that I did.

My sister gave me this book 3 years ago, saying that Wall's father reminded her a lot of my dad. I thought, oh, that sounds like a good read. Then I read it and thought, 'um, Alecia, are you kidding me?' The father in this book is an alcoholic, a bum. He neglects his children and at one point, yes, he even pimps his daughter (she doesn't actually go through with it, so you can relax on that one). Reading this book I thought to myself, how exactly is this person like my father? My dad never drank, though his own father was an alcoholic so there was certainly precedent. He always tried to get work, and he always tried his best to provide for us kids. But then I thought about it some more. Despite his short (SHORT) comings, Wall's father was a highly intelligent man, teaching his kids to read and leaving them with dreams of a "Glass Castle". And in that sense, he was very much like my father. My dad has a sixth grade education, and yet he always encouraged us kids to work hard in school. College wasn't an option, it was a necessity. And brilliant? My dad loves to invent things. He holds about 10 patents on various carpentry tools he's made throughout the years. Nothing has ever come of them, but I greatly admire his creativity and ability to dream and never give up. So even though my father is a better man than Wall's in many respects, my sister was right. I did relate to Walls. I could see how much she loved her father despite the hardships she endured and more importantly, I understood that.

At the same time, I thought to myself, ye gads! If I had a life like Walls had growing up, I'd be full of resentment and hatred for my parents. I don't think I'd have it in me to forgive. But Walls does. Not only that but she's able to look back on it AND WRITE ABOUT IT. Let me tell you, memoirs are probably the hardest type of writing there is. It's facts. It's facts about you, your life. And if it's full of self-pity, hatred and loathing, then no one is going to enjoy it. If it's told in a ho-hum, boring voice, then it's not going to resonate with readers. A memoir has to be written with a certain amount of separation, but at the same time it must adhere to the standard of being entertaining. Talk about pressure! Even with vampires, fairies, angels and genies in my hands, I have a hard enough time. But to talk about something that personal and still be able to entertain an audience? I give anyone who is able to do that a lot of credit.

Which brings me to my final point about book banning. A lot of people might think that book challenges aren't valid if they don't result in some sort of action, but let me tell you, they are. Censure takes many forms and when books like The Glass Castle are challenged, somewhere out there, it silences a story. It takes guts to write and put yourself out there to people. It takes guts of steel to put out a memoir. Many don't do it for the reason of not knowing how to handle those who might criticize them. Hearing these stories of how books and memoirs in particular are banned can hammer that final nail into the memoir's coffin. I am so glad that Walls had the courage to write The Glass Castle. It enriched my life and gave me a new appreciation of my childhood that I may have had, but didn't necessarily break apart piece by piece. I loved reading it as an adult, but if someone had given me this book as a teen, I would have thanked them over and over again.

Final word - I've been laying in the murky waters of revisions again, but I promise to do more reviews of banned books over the next few days. And remember to leave me links to your reviews and blog posts about Banned Books Week in order to enter my contest!!


Joann Swanson said...

Fabulous review, Angie! This memoir keeps popping up on my radar lately, which means it's time to inch it up on my TBR list.

Nomes said...

wow. i was overwhelmed just in the publishers blurb, haha.

this book sounds fascinating! and it is weird that a memoir could be banned!

i love the thoughts on there about your dad. he sounds really awesome! that is so cool that he has patented stuff.

and i agree, writing a memoir would be hard. my husband reads a lot of autobiographies (diff to memoir, but similar I guess) and some he says are writtten brilliantly paced and unputdownable and others are hard work like slogging through a text book.

i love memoirs too and have bee very moved by some - more so than i am moved by fiction.

i should write a post for your contest. sigh... feeling very lazy and flat out all at once with kids on holidays and relatives staying with us...


Alexa said...

Great review! I loved this book, I can't believe they tried to ban it! It actually was one of the inspirations for my WIP.

It's such a heartbreaking story. The two things I really remember are the stars, which was such a lovely idea and the chocolate, which made me furious!

Kerry said...

I loved loved this book. So unlike my sheltered, wealthy, New England childhood. It was eye opening, stunning and amazingly not seeking pity. What is so disturbing is the parents in my small town in New Hampshire that say this book is "made up," and "offends their morality," and "teaches their children poor values." Our high school AP English juniors did NOT get to read this book with discussion groups lead by an educated, dedicated English teacher, to talk about its multiple issues. Instead, as soon as it's pulled from the lists, parents like me lend their copy to their daughter, and say, read, learn, enjoy, empathize and UNDERSTAND.

Angie said...

Thanks for your comment Kerry! Very sad that they banned the book from an AP english class, and I commend you for making sure that your daughter got an opportunity to read it. Though it's sad to know that other kids in the class may not have gotten the opportunity because of a few people forcing their opinions on others.



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