Irina Ivascu, 7A
“Later that night, Dad stopped the car out in the middle of the desert, and we slept under the stars. We had no pillows, but Dad said that was part of his plan. He was teaching us to have good posture. ‘The Indians didn’t use pillows, either,’ he explained,’ and look how straight they stood.’ We did have our scratchy army-surplus blankets, se we spread them out and lay there, looking up at the field of stars. I told Lori how lucky we were to be sleeping out under the sky like Indians.
‘We could be living like this forever,’ I said.
‘I think we’re going to,’ she said.”
This best-selling memoir written by Jeannette Walls presents her childhood in a family run by her two eccentric and nonconformist parents.
Her father, Rex Walls, teaches his children Geology and Physics and gives them the stars for their birthday but cannot keep his job due to his addiction to alcohol, while the children’s mother, Rose Mary Walls, would much rather spend her days painting instead of putting food on the table and taking care of her children’s education.
The book is divided into five parts.
The first one documents the encounter Jeannette has with her mother, who is squatting in an abandoned building in New York, which determines Jeannette to write her memoir and tell the truth about her childhood.
The second part shows little Jeannette, living with her parents and her siblings, Lori, Brian and Maureen. Their financial problems result in the family frequently changing its home from Nevada to Arizona and then California.
Part three covers the episode when they move to Welch, where the children face bullying, sexual abuse, hunger and brokenness. At the end of almost seven years, Lori runs off to New York and Jeannette follows her the year after.
In the fourth part Lori helps Brian and Maureen move to New York. Three years after all the children left home, the parents come to New York and due to their lack of money or willingness to get a job they become squatters. A few years pass before Jeannette visits her father after receiving a call from Res informing her that he was dying. Father and daughter sit and talk about their adventures and, only days later he dies of a heart attack.
In part five the family reunites for Thanksgiving at Jeannette’s place, five years after Rex’s death. A time for re-bonding and recollections good, bad, sad, funny… the very cloth of life.
The book has received the following accolades: American Library Association (ALA) – Alex Award in 2006, Lincoln Award Nominee in 2008, and ALA Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners. The author was praised for the balanced way she presented the qualities and defects of living such a nomadic life and for the fact that Jeannette tries to understand her parents’ way of thinking and not blame them for all the trials and struggles they had put her through.
In 2017 the book was screened in a two-hour film with the same title. It was directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, starring Academy Award winner Brie Larson, Academy Award nominees Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. The movie faithfully renders this peculiar family life story with their constant financial problems and the father’s addiction as well as his relationship with Jeannette.
This is a favorite book of mine as it shows the reality of one’s childhood. It blends drama and humor, dreams and delusion in a powerful narrative of a life worth living. As Jeannette’s mother used to say:
“Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy. You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more.”