When this autobiography opens, Jeannette Walls is all grown up, a successful writer who lives with her husband in a fancy apartment on Park Avenue in New York City. One night she's in a taxi on her way to a party when, looking out the window, she sights her mother, diving into a garbage can.
Walls and her two sisters and a brother had a hard childhood. This book mostly tells the story of their childhood.
When the children are very young, the family lives in the Southwest. They're constantly on the move from town to town, as their parents get fed up with what always see as the constraints of society or get in trouble with a landlord or the law. At one point, their mother, Rose Mary, does do some teaching. (What she always prefers to do is paint.) And their father, a wouldbe inventor, sometimes gets a job as an electrician. But he's an alcoholic who time after time will drink up his paycheck.
For a time, the family's happy, living in an old railroad depot in Batttle Mountain, Nevada, even though they don't have much and they go hungry from time to time. But when their parents really seem to start to fall apart, they move to the tiny decaying mining town of Welch, West Virginia. From this point, their poverty will be absolute. Many days all the children have to eat is school lunches. They're lucky to have a second dress to change into. After some time living with their incredibly abusive grandmother, the family moves into a shack which doesn't have running water or heat.
At times, I found this book incredibly hard to read, perhaps because my own family has sometimes been close to desperately poor. But in the long run I read the entire thing and have recommended it over and over again to other people. Jeannette and her brothers do in fact get themselves out of their terrible situation. Her big sister will be the first to escape their parents. Slowly, the rest of the children will also go to live with her. When Jeannette goes to live with Lori in New York City, she does so well in high school that she gets into Barnard College.
This report prepared by Ann Gaines