Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Actually it has a subtitle, A True-Life Novel.

I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls just before I started this blog, so I didn't do a review of it, but I thought it was a really good book. That was a while ago, and I had forgotten how much I like her writing style. Walls writes in a straight forward honest way that I love.

The Glass Castle was a memoir of Jeannette Walls' life growing up with parents who often chose to be homeless. Half Broke Horses is a memoir of her mom's mom, Lily Casey Smith. She acknowledges in the back that she calls the book a novel because she had to use her imagination to fill in details, and changed somethings to protect other's privacy. But the stories are real, and they are good.

Lily grows on you. She was a good woman who was humble, honest and worked hard. She made her way through trials without feeling sorry for herself. There are decisions that she makes that seem hard, but you can see how she ultimately trying to do what was best. I love that Walls wrote this book in the first person. It feels like you are listening to your grandma tell you the stories of her life.

As a teacher in one room school houses in rural areas, there are several mentions of beating and punishing kids. I hate that kind of stuff. It isn't a focus, and I know that given the time period it's realistic. But I thought I'd give you a heads up. In that same vein, there is a heartbreaking scene where Rosemary defies Lily and sneaks out to swim with boys. Lily loses control in her anger, but you feel for her as you read, "I was also plain furious with Rosemary. I'd slept next to that girl every night to protect her. I thought that I had taught her to be smarter than this." There is heartache and sadness, but also so much love. The characters are trying to do what is best.
I loved when Lily met Big Jim. I loved their marriage and how they approached problems together. There are so many great moments between them in this story.

I also loved how Lily broke horses, worked hard on her ranch, but embraced progress. She loved to drive fast in cars, learned how to fly airplanes, and loved indoor plumbing. When they had some savings, she and her husband invested in new "chompers." She wasn't vain, but she wanted to have nice teeth. I loved that. She went to a premier of Gone with the Wind, and made herself a gown out of her red velvet curtains! There's also a magical night where she hooks up electric Christmas lights to their car battery for her kids. (They didn't have electricity at the ranch.) Another example of how she wasn't afraid of modernization even though they lived without most conveniences.

Here are some quotes from the book that were my favorites:

"There was nothing finer than the feeling that came rushing trough you when it clicked and you suddenly understood something that had puzzled you. It made you think it just might be possible to get a handle on this old world after all."

"Working in those little desert towns during the war years--teaching illiterate ragamuffins how to read--I had felt needed in a way that I never had in Chicago. That was how I wanted to feel again."

"Sometimes after I finished a particularly good book, I had the urge to get the library card, find out who else had read the book, and track them down to talk about it."

"We found a beautiful site at the top of a rise overlooking a shallow forested valley--so beautiful that I knew in God's eyes it must be sacred--"

"When people kill themselves, they think they're ending the pain, but all they're doing is passing it on to those they leave behind."

These next two are quotes from Jim to Lily about Rosemary when she decides to marry Rex.
(If you read The Glass Castle, you can imagine why her mother was wary of Rex.....)

"She might not have turned out like you planned, but that don't mean she turned out wrong."

and, "Our daughter's found something she likes, this painting, and someone she wants to be with, this Rex fellow, so she's way ahead of a lot of folks."

I am planning to re-read The Glass Castle with this new perspective on Jeannette's family history. I remember Lily being in it, but I don't remember much about her.

I recommend this book!


The GruCru said...

"Sometimes after I finished a particularly good book, I had the urge to get the library card, find out who else had read the book, and track them down to talk about it." I can relate

I love Jeanette Walls and all her books. We heard her speak at the National Book Festival and she just plain rocks!

kim said... give the best reviews. really, i love it! love the favorite quotes and info which make me choose whether or not to read it. i read the glass castle and really liked it too, so i'll have to check this one out.