Half Broke Horses

Thoughts   Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls, Scribner 2009, 272 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:     My friend Ree loaned this because she heard me say I enjoyed The Glass Castle, Walls debut memoir.

WHAT’s it ABOUT:     If you’ve read TGC and liked Walls’ writing, you will not be disappointed.   Yet, this book is different because it is told in the point-of-view of her grandmother.   Or rather, Walls’ more detailed imaginings of the stories she heard from her grandmother and her mother.     Thus the subtitle of “A True-Life Novel”;  what the author could verify, she did but the book reads like a novel with dialogue and inner thoughts that she could only call fiction.

If you haven’t read The Glass Castle yet, I recommend you do  – a startling look at survival in a crazy family.   I am having a hard time answering my own question of whether not you would need to have read that before this and think the answer is ‘no’.    However, I don’t think I would have read this if I hadn’t already been introduced to Walls.    I don’t know;   I might have assumed incorrectly it was a horse story and that just isn’t my interest.

It’s not really about horses.

WHAT’s GOOD:      It’s about Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’ maternal grandmother.   Lily was one tough cookie.   She was a scrapper, a do-er, a don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-do-it kind of person.  She was independent, a spitfire, a woman with a temper, afraid of nothin’.   Definitely no-nonsense and practical, not a sentimental bone in her body.     We start with an early childhood memory in Texas and how she developed her life philosophy of work hard and get-it-done.    She endures tragedy and heartache, becomes a school teacher and gets fired a few times.   She finds a good man to marry, helps him run an Arizona ranch through the depression years and raises two kids.    Perhaps by Lily’s example, her daughter Rosemary learns how NOT to be a mother?

WHAT’s NOT so GOOD:     A silly thing that bugged me was that I got a bit lost with what year it was when;   about a third of the way through the book we are once again given a year reference.   It could very well be that I just missed these dates and then couldn’t find again but it was a minor distraction.  Not that big of a deal;   we still learn about her life during major events going on in the US (the Depression, WWII, etc).

FINAL THOUGHTS:     I don’t usually pay attention to chapter length but I really enjoyed the short chapters and quick readability of this book.   It made it very easy to pick up and read a few pages at a time.      I only recall a bit of Glass Castles but I did have the impression the grandmother was wealthy – perhaps that was only young Jeannette’s impression.    So I was expecting a very different grandmother than the one we meet here!     Also, I was so curious how Rosemary (Jeannette’s mom) got her crazy child-rearing ideas (or lack thereof?)    It’s very apparent that Walls has a fondness for her mother’s mother yet, again, she does not apologize for showing the warts.   Lily was not perfect and she didn’t give a damn.  I liked her from this far-away perspective but I would have been terribly intimidated by her.

Walls is a terrific story teller.   Lily was an amazing interesting woman who lived life hard.

RATING:   Four Pie Slices of Prickly Pear Pie*

OTHER REVIEWS:    Heather J at Age 30… A Lifetime of Books, A Novel Menagerie, Literate Housewife, Bibliophile by the Sea.


* Yes, I found a recipe for Prickly Pear Pie but have yet to try it.   Ya gotta love the suggestion to “Wear gloves and use tongs.”   I’m sure Lily Casey Smith would have approved.


Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

14 thoughts on “Half Broke Horses

  1. I still haven’t read The Glass Castle. I want to but I don’t read memoirs too often so I really have to be in the mood for one. Anyway, this one does sound good so hopefully after I get to TGC I won’t forget to look for this one!

  2. I have the Glass Castle waiting to be read. This one sounds good as well, but since it’s more convenient, I’ll read The Glass castle first.

  3. I saw Jeanette give a talk at Wordstock here in Portland earlier this year–I think it was about memoirs, or fiction inspired by real-life events, or something like that? Anyway, it was fascinating and really made me want to read her books, which I promptly didn’t, and therefore forgot. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Kathleen

    I started The Glass Castle for my book club a few years ago and never had the chance to finish it. I’ve got to get back to that one and then I think I would be interested to read this one too.

  5. Pingback: About Horses – Rule is ruled out of Kentucky Derby – Yahoo! News

  6. My book club is reading this in December. It was the recommendation of someone who usually doesn’t pick any books so we felt like we had to go with it but since neither myself or the other gal that usually make the suggestions had read it, we were a bit nervous. Sounds like we needn’t worry!

  7. I had the same issue as you did with the dates. I kept getting confused (asking my history major husband questions like, “When did Prohibition end again?”) Loved this one.

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