I just finished reading this book for my book club meeting next week. I can't pick out the words to describe it. It's funny in a "are-you-kidding-me!?" kind of way. Jeannette Walls has a way of describing a neglectful and abusive childhood as an exciting adventure. The interesting thing to me was that she wrote so vividly through the innocent eyes of a child. As she grew up you could see the loss of that innocence as she got wiser to what was really going on. I can't wait to discuss this book with my group - there are so many things to say! I'm so conflicted. Her parents were completely irresponsible and didn't deserve these kids and yet I found myself feeling compassion for them as she described the things that happened to them which were a direct result of their own choices. It's hard to describe what I'm trying to say without giving it away - and I think this is a book that everyone should read. Let me just say this - she gets you hooked in the first few pages when she describes seeing a homeless woman on the streets of New York and then realizes it's her mother.
One thing that I realized is that as a child you really don't know what you have or don't have, everyone's perspective on life is dependant on their own experience. I think anyone who experienced just one of the things she did as a child would think they'd had it hard and choose to be a victim for the rest of their life. And yet she speaks of it matter-of-factly and chose to make a different life for herself. As we compare our experiences with those around us, inevitably there will be some who we think had it better and some who had it worse. Her story helps me put my life in perspective and even though I've had to deal with my own things - it's not so bad, comparatively speaking. I like what she said near the end "I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets." I guess if more people understood this, we might see more compassion towards each other.
Seriously, if you haven't read this you should - there's a reason it's on the NYTimes best seller list.
Here is a brief summary I picked up off of google.
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.