*Trigger Warning: This memoir discusses sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, poverty, mental illness, and alcoholism.*
I had heard about this memoir from a friend who said it was fantastic, so when I found a copy at a book sale, I decided to snag it up to read later. That was almost a year ago, so I decided to give it a listen via audiobook instead. (Yes, that is my go-to these days. Spring is a busy season!)
In the novel, Jeannette Walls narrates her own story with such energy, the reader gets completely swept up in her childhood adventures. Growing up, the Walls family didn’t have much, but they had each other and often that was enough. Jeannette’s mother was an artist, and her father bounced from job to job, doing what he could to put food on the table and a roof over the family. Often though, his drinking limited the income. The kids didn’t mind, as they were very resourceful. Often, if they could, they would make due with one meal a day, eating their school lunch, or they’d pick whatever fruit or vegetables they could find. Their luxuries included a “clonker” station wagon, and bikes. There were four kids, and they all looked out for each other.
The family was often on the move- they’d settle in an area for a bit, but then something would always come up and they would have to choose one thing each to take with them on their last minute departures. After years of growing up and living on the west coast, the Walls have to leave town, and this time, Jeannette’s father feels like he has no other choice but to return to his hometown of Welch, West Virginia.
West Virginia comes with it’s own issues- an abusive past, a crumbling house on a hill, a bone chilling winter. Though the Walls try to stick together, Jeannette’s mother is battling undiagnosed manic depressive episodes, and her father’s alcoholism is out of control. Jeannette and her older sister try to help make ends meet, but their father’s addiction is crippling their income. Finally, Jeannette sees that in order to have a future and to support her siblings, she has to leave her parents behind.
I really enjoyed this memoir, and especially so through the audiobook because I feel that I got to really know Jeannette and her story. I loved the gumption and spunk in her voice, and the determination that kept her and her family surviving. Though I got extremely frustrated with her parents, I respected the way that Jeannette never accused them of ruining her childhood- she just stated things how they were, and accepted them, flaws and all. It broke my heart when the title of the novel was discussed, and there were certainly some depressing parts, but ultimately this memoir is about survival, optimism, and family devotion. I would encourage anyone to give it a read or listen.