The memoir spent a total of 261 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. By late 2007, The Glass Castle had sold over 2.7 million copies, had been translated into 22 languages, and received the Christopher Award, the American Library Association's Alex Award (2006) and the Books for Better Living Award.
The Glass Castle was adapted as a feature film for release in the summer of 2017.
Jeannette Walls is the second oldest of four children born to Rex Walls, an alcoholic, and Rose Mary Walls, a painter and artist. Until Jeannette is 6, the family moves around Arizona and California every few months when Rex and Mary's debts grow too numerous. When Jeannette is 7 the family moves to Battle Mountain, Nevada where they enjoy stability for the first time as Rex works for the mining company and the family lives in a converted railway station. Eventually Rex loses his job and the children grow hungry. Rose Mary, who has a teaching certificate, is able to get a job teaching at the local school but Rex quickly siphons away her pay check. Even so, the family is happy there until a young boy develops a fixation on Jeannette and attacks her with a BB gun when the children are home alone. Jeannette's older sister Lori retrieves their father's pistol to scare him away but the police are called and when Rex and Rose Mary learn that the children might be taken away from them, they decide to run away to Phoenix, Arizona. Jeannette initially believes they are moving to live with her maternal grandmother, Grandma Smith, but on the way over she is informed Grandma Smith is dead and they are going to live in the property Rose Mary has inherited from her mother.
Initially life is happy for the children as their mother's house is huge and Grandma Smith also left her a significant amount of money. However the money quickly disappears and the house falls into a state of disrepair. For Jeannette's 10th birthday Rex asks what she would like and Jeannette asks him to stop drinking. He ties himself to a bed for a week in order to get over his need for alcohol and afterwards decides to take the family on a trip to the desert. When their car breaks down in the desert a woman who picks them up and takes them to the city refers to them as "poor" causing Rex to relapse. Rose Mary decides since they have no money it is time to move again and takes the family to their paternal grandparents in Welch, West Virginia.
In Welch the children meet their paternal grandparents and uncle for the first time. They are enrolled in school; however, since Rose Mary abandoned their records and the children have different accents from the locals they are placed in a class for slow children. Jeannette is repeatedly beat up by local girls; however, when she helps the neighbor of the lead bully, she is eventually no longer targeted. Rex and Rose Mary decide to return to Phoenix to retrieve some valuable items they abandoned. While they are gone Jeannette walks in on her grandmother molesting Brian. Lori gets into a physical altercation with their grandmother and they realize it is likely their father was molested as well. Rather than defend his children Rex admonishes them upon his return. They are thrown out of the family home and relocate to a small rotting home with no indoor plumbing which Rex acquires as it has land large enough to build his dream house, a glass castle on the property.
Though Rex assures the children that their situation is temporary they live at the house for years as it falls further into disarray as Rex refuses to repair it. The only money they have during this time is through odd jobs that Rex provides and infrequent checks Rose Mary receives from an oil company leasing a piece of property she owns. The children take to dumpster diving to survive. Jeannette eventually begs her mother to leave her father so they can at least go on welfare but her mother refuses. Rose Mary eventually takes a teaching job after a man from child protective services pays them a visit. The children believe their lives will change after their mother has work but money continues to evaporate and their mother suffers repeated nervous breakdowns from teaching.
The summer she is 13 Jeannette is left in charge of the household as her mother leaves to take teaching classes and her sister is away on scholarship. Left with the money to run the household Jeannette gives some to her father and ends up unwittingly working with him in a pool hustling scam where she is groped and almost raped by a much older man. Afterwards she refuses to indulge in any more of her father's scams and in an effort to find money is hired at her first real job working at a jewelry store.
When Rose Mary returns from her teaching seminar she decides to quit teaching to focus once again on her art. Disgusted, Lori and Jeannette hatch a plan for Lori to move to New York City with Jeannette following shortly after. Lori, Jeannette and Brian work for the better part of a year trying to accumulate money to finance the move. Shortly before Lori is set to move Jeannette discovers that Rex has stolen their money. Lori is disheartened but Jeannette receives an offer to go babysit for the summer and get a ticket back home and asks the couple to take Lori instead and buy her a ticket to New York.
Jeannette begins to make plans to go to college in New York City and realizes that if she wants she can leave a year early and complete 12th grade there. Rose Mary is indifferent to her leaving but Rex seems heartbroken and sees her off to the bus station. In New York Jeannette is able to get an internship at a newspaper after graduation and encourages her brother Brian to move to New York with her and Lori to which he acquiesces. When Maureen is 12 Lori asks her to move in with them as the house in Welch is on the verge of being condemned. Maureen readily agrees. A short while later Jeannette receives a call from Rose Mary who informs her that she and Rex have moved to the city to be with their children. Though Lori and Brian attempt to help their parents they eventually have to block them from their apartments and their parents become homeless. They finally locate some abandoned buildings and squat there and Maureen eventually moves back in with them as she enters her twenties. A fight eventually breaks out between Maureen and Rose Mary and Maureen tries to stab Rose Mary. She is arrested and forced to spend a year in a mental institution. When she is finally released she decides to move to California.
A few years later Rex calls Jeannette and tells her he is dying. He dies a few weeks later. Years later the family gathers together on Thanksgiving where they toast Rex.
Jeannette Walls is the author of The Glass Castle. The memoir is told from her point of view, beginning with her unconventional childhood (starting at the age of three) and culminating in her adult success as an editor, journalist, and writer. She is the second oldest out of four children. She also helped raise her siblings.
Rex Walls was born in Welch, West Virginia, and later joined the Air Force to get out of Welch. During his time in the Air Force, he met his wife Rose Mary. After the death of their second daughter, Mary, as an infant, Rex descended into alcoholism.
Rex is bright and creative when not drinking; the title of the book comes from a promise that he makes throughout Jeannette's childhood that he will someday build the family a Glass Castle that they will live in, the blueprints for which he carries with him every time they move. Rex loves his family but is responsible for a great deal of chaos in their lives, uprooting them at a moment's notice to move to a new town, spending their already inadequate money on alcohol, and disappearing for days at a time. Although he is trained as a skilled worker, he rarely holds a job for longer than six months and often gets into trouble by arguing with authority figures.
Rex always has projects in mind for getting rich quick, but these never lead anywhere. He occasionally brings in extra money by gambling; at one point he enlists Jeannette in hustling a pool player at a bar by letting the player believe she will provide sexual favors to him. He justifies this by saying he knew Jeannette could take care of herself.
Although Rex's contributions to his family have always been erratic, towards the end of the memoir, Rex comes up with $950 for Jeannette's final year in college.
Rose Mary is Rex's wife and the mother of Jeannette, Lori, Brian, and Maureen. She is an artist who loves to paint, but is also licensed as a teacher and is occasionally forced to take a teaching job when the family is on the brink of starvation with literally no money left. Even so, she sees taking teaching jobs as a betrayal of her true calling and never takes these jobs seriously, often refusing to go to work in the morning until her children cajole her into going. She occasionally tells her children that life would be much simpler if she didn't have four children to take care of.
By the end of the memoir, Rose Mary chooses to be homeless, seeing it as an adventure and refusing to take help from either of her grown daughters. Jeannette learns later that Rose Mary owns family land in Texas that is worth at least a million dollars, but never used this as a resource when her family was struggling because she was a strong believer that family land should never be sold. She also inherited land from her mother who died and left her a large house. The Walls family ends up destroying that home and blowing through all the money and having to uproot and move once again.
Lori Walls is the first child born to Rex and Rose Mary Walls. She is the first of the siblings to really question the way the family has been living, and decides she needs to leave home as soon as she can manage it.
Lori and Jeannette work together to save money so that Lori can move to New York after her high school graduation, where she could get a job and send for Jeannette. Over a period of months, they save a sum of money in a piggy bank, but Rex steals it. Jeannette then receives a job offer from a family who is moving to Iowa and want her to come along to watch their children over the summer. Jeannette asks them to take Lori instead and pay for a bus ticket to New York at the end of it.
Lori moves to New York City, and Jeannette joins her immediately after her junior year. In New York, Lori eventually becomes an illustrator.
Brian Walls is the only son in the Walls family, the third of four children. He and Jeannette are the closest out of all the siblings. He helps Jeannette defend the siblings from local bullies.
Immediately after his junior year of high school, Brian follows Jeannette and Lori to New York as well. He marries, has a daughter, and becomes a police officer, eventually rising to become a detective sergeant. Later, he divorces his wife.
Maureen is the youngest of the Walls children. As a young girl, Maureen spends most of her time in the homes of her friends, eating meals with them (since there is no food in the Walls home), and sleeping over at other people's houses whenever possible.
Lori, Jeannette, and Brian bring Maureen to New York at the age of twelve. Shortly thereafter, their parents move to New York as well. Maureen eventually goes to live with her parents again, but attacks her mother with a knife when her mother tries to kick her out. Maureen is arrested and denied bail, and is sent to a psychiatric hospital for a year by the judge. After her release, she buys a one-way bus ticket to California. Jeannette states that she believes all Maureen ever wanted was for someone to take care of her.
In The New York Times Book Review, critic and novelist Francine Prose wrote, "What's best is the deceptive ease with which Walls makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure. In one especially lovely scene, Rex takes his daughter to look at the starry desert sky and persuades her that the bright planet Venus is his Christmas gift to her. Even as she describes how their circumstances degenerated, how her mother sank into depression and how hunger and cold — and Rex's increasing irresponsibility, dishonesty and abusiveness — made it harder to pretend, Walls is notably evenhanded and unjudging...'The Glass Castle' falls short of being art, but it's a very good memoir. At one point, describing her early literary tastes, Walls mentions that 'my favorite books all involved people dealing with hardships.' And she has succeeded in doing what most writers set out to do — to write the kind of book they themselves most want to read."
Paramount bought the film rights to The Glass Castle, and in March 2013 announced that actress Jennifer Lawrence would play Jeannette Walls in the movie adaptation. In August 2014, it was announced that Destin Daniel Cretton was set to direct. On October 9, 2015, it was reported that Lawrence withdrew from the film. Lionsgate acquired the film rights from Paramount and Brie Larson was set to play Jeannette Walls. Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson will play Rose Mary and Rex Walls, respectively, with Gil Netter producing. Filming began May 20, 2016 in Welch, West Virginia.
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