Hannibal Free Public Library

 The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls

June 28, 2010

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.  The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York . Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.  The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar, but loyal family. Jeannette Walls has a story to tell, and tells it brilliantly, without an ounce of self-pity.

Jeannette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire , USA Today, and New York .  

  1. What is the “glass castle” and what does it signify to Jeannette and her father?
  1. The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her burning herself severely at age three.  Why do you think she opens with that story, and how does it set the stage for the rest of the memoir?
  2. What kind of man was Rex Walls? What were his strengths and weaknesses, his flaws and contradictions?
  3. What kind of woman was Rose Mary Walls? What did you think about her description of herself as an “excitement addict” on page 93?
  4. In college, Jeannette is singled out by a professor for not understanding the plight of homeless people; instead of defending herself, she keeps quiet. Why do you think she does this? Is homelessness a choice?
  5. The two major pieces of the memoir—one half set in the desert and one half in West Virginia —feel distinct. What effect did such a big move have on the family—and on your reading of the story? How would you describe the shift in the book’s tone?
  6. What was Jeannette’s relationship to her siblings? Were you surprised to learn that, as adults, Jeannette and her siblings remained close to their parents? Why do you think this is?
  7. What do parents owe children and what do children owe parents?
  8. Which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, or the funniest?
  9. Though it portrays an incredibly hard scrabble life, The Glass Castle is never sad or depressing. How do you think that the author achieved that effect?
  10. The most extraordinary thing about The Glass Castle is that despite everything, Jeannette Walls refuses to condemn her parents. Were you able to be equally nonjudgmental?

Discussion Questions apapted from http://www.simonandschuster.com/