Jeanette Walls has experienced popularity and success based on The Glass Castle, which was published in 2005. This memoir of her nomadic, chaotic, and unusual upbringing has set records – remaining on the New York Times Bestseller List for months. According to the Times, the book sold over four million copies! I’m not normally a fan of memoirs, but based on this book’s popularity, I felt I had to check it out. I absolutely loved it, and unlike any other book I’ve ever read, Castle made me re-examine my own life. It was sincere, gritty, and also very heartfelt. Her ability to connect to readers, and to tell her story of incredible success and survival of a difficult childhood proved why so many had connected to this book. The details of her parents’ shortcomings – their inability to provide a stable home for their children, and primarily function as adults are expected, made me feel that I had grown up with the Cleaver family.
She followed up the success of this memoir with Half Broke Horses. It was loosely based on her grandmother’s life, which was considered a work of fiction. It was because of this that the book was not considered a true biography, because it had been constructed from her memory of her grandmother’s stories (which she admidtedly didn’t recall all the details, and in those instances filled in the blanks with her own fictional details). Subtitled A True-Life Narrative, Lily Casey Smith’s life story is told, against the backdrop of the developing west, and the Great Depression. This too was an excellent read!
Her newest book, The Silver Star, is similar to her earlier works in that it follows the lives of two young sisters. Bean and Liz are 12 and 15 when the novel begins. These two have been living with their mother, who is a free spirit (to put it lightly), never staying in one place too long. It’s this flakiness that causes the girls to seek out the only family they know, they travel to rural Virginia from their home in the Los Angeles area. This move is quite a shock to them in many ways. Although both girls were born in Virginia, their mother Charlotte had fled their small town when Bean was just a baby. They had no idea what life in a small town was like, especially in the south. The year is 1970, and Virginia was still struggling with desegregation – which is something the girls had never experienced. This is also the time period of the Vietnam War, and the conservative south viewed this conflict in a much a different way than individuals in California had.
The town itself plays almost as an important role as the girls themselves. Their mother hastily left, with the two young girls in tow, because of an incident involving Bean’s father. Charlotte’s progressive ideas and lifestyle didn’t sit well with the townfolk she had grown up with. Years later, when the girls are left to fend for themselves in California, they journey to Virginia, in search of help. Neither girl has ever had a relationship with their father, and they show up unexpectedly on their uncle’s door; the home of their mother’s only sibling, Uncle Tinsley. Here, after a series of disastrous events with Tinsley’s nemisis in the town, the girls get a better understanding of why their mother left. Opinions of Charlotte have not changed in the years after her departure, and this is something that the girls struggle with throughout the last part of the novel.
I loved the way the book ended, and for these details you’ll have to read the book yourself! For anyone who enjoyed The Glass Castle, Walls’s return to the relationship between siblings and a troubled relationship with their mom in Silver Star will be familiar, touching, and satisfying.