I honestly did not expect to finish this book before next week, but it was better than I expected it to be and I wrapped it up a little early.
Of course, I wanted to read it because I saw the trailer for the movie of the same name and apparently a lot of other people felt the same way, because I had a hold on this book at the library for almost two months before it actually came my way. Before I started the book, really all I knew was that it was a memoir.
The book chronicles Jeannette Walls’s childhood, which consisted mostly of living in rundown houses and moving place to place in the desert with little or no notice to evade creditors and the law. About half the book covers her first 10 or so years, and it amazes me how much she recalls from that time. I’m assuming she got some help from other family members who were there, because I sure know I can’t remember that much about my life when I was that young. She grows up with her parents, older sister, and younger brother and sister.
Next up, the family moves to Welch, West Virginia, where Jeannette’s father grew up. Throughout it all, the family is poor and neither parent seems to be able to hold down a job. The house they live in has no running water or indoor plumbing, spontaneous electricity (depending on whether the power bill was paid or not), and holes in the roof that let in water whenever it rains.
Eventually, Jeannette’s sister Lori, who is an artist, decides that she wants out of West Virginia, and the kids hatch a plan to send her to New York. Of course, their parents try to sabotage them, but she makes it anyway, with Jeannette soon to follow.
Maybe my point of view is skewed because I grew up with a supportive parent and never wanted for anything, but I almost hate Jeannette’s parents. It seemed like more often than not, the kids went hungry (Jeannette mentions literally digging around in the school trash trying to find food for lunch) while Rex, her father, drank all their money away, when they even had money. Rose Mary, Jeannette’s mother, had a teaching certificate, but hated teaching and would throw temper tantrums when her children tried to make her go to work so they could put food on the table. Instead, she claimed she was an artist, but an artist who was also unemployed and never seemed to sell any of her work. The parents were unaffected by the multiple sexual assaults that Jeannette faced, and seemed unconcerned that they were dirty and unclean and happened to get into lots of fights with other kids.
I just can’t believe a parent would be so selfish and do such a poor job of taking care of their children. It seemed like the kids had a stronger head on their shoulders than either of the parents. They were the ones focused on budgeting money and bettering their own situations, while Rex was gone for days at a time and Rose Mary announced that she was going to “focus more on herself,” even though she barely made any contributions to begin with. It’s just outstanding to me that people like this exist, but it makes Jeannette all the more impressive for not falling into that trap and doing well for herself, despite the situation she was raised in.
Jeannette’s young adult years are barely chronicled, but by the end of the book, the family has gotten back together to celebrate Thanksgiving. They are not necessarily a close family, and each has gone their own way, but none seem to hold much resentment for their past.
The book is just astounding at some points and almost seems like a work of fiction, but I don’t even know if an author could come up with some of the experiences that the Walls kids went through. Definitely a good book, though.
Off to read more books,