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Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

Sexually explicit content available at Canyon Independent School District in Region 16 of Texas:

Title: The Glass Castle

Author: Jeanette Walls

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: March 2005

Categorization: Memoir

Lexicon Level: 1010L; 7th-8th grade reading level

Pages: 894


  • Canyon High School Library (CISD)

  • Fall 2020 Canyon High Freshman Reading List (CISD)

  • June 2021, voted appropriate for 9-12th by the Instructional Resource Committee (IRC) at CISD.

  • On Thursday, July 22nd, 2021, per Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Cameron Rosser, Canyon ISD had accepted/approved the Instruction Resource Committee's recommendation and this title is available for 9-12th as an instructional resource at CISD.

  • At approximately, 10:00 am on Monday morning, July 26th, 2021, per Assistant Superintendent, Cameron Rosser, Canyon ISD had NOT accepted/approved the IRC's recommendation and he said had personally misspoken on 7/22/2021.

  • On Monday evening, July 26th, 2021, at the CISD public school meeting, Assistant Superintendent, Cameron Rosser, said that the district would announce their decision to accept or reject this title as an instructional resource on Thursday, August 5th, 2021.

"On one of the mattresses, Billy’s father was snoring unevenly. His mouth hung open, and flies were gathered in the stubble of his beard. A wet stain had darkened his pants nearly to his knees. His zipper was undone, and his gross penis dangled to one side. I stared quietly, then asked, “What’s the funny thing?” “Don’t you see?” said Billy, pointing at his dad. “He pissed himself!” Billy started laughing.” Ch. 21, Pg. 262

“Mom, Uncle Stanley is behaving inappropriately,” I said. “Oh, you’re probably imagining it,” she said. “He groped me! And he’s wanking off!” Mom cocked her head and looked concerned. “Poor Stanley,” she said. “He’s so lonely.” “But it was gross!” Mom asked me if I was okay. I shrugged and nodded. “Well, there you go,” she said. She said that sexual assault was a crime of perception. “If you don’t think you’re hurt, then you aren’t,” she said.” Ch. 41, Pg. 582

“Keep this up and people are going to think you’re a nigger lover,” she said.” Ch.32, Pg. 450

(Grandma molests grandchild)...."They’d been gone for a minute or two when I heard Brian weakly protesting. I went into Grandpa’s bedroom and saw Erma kneeling on the floor in front of Brian, grabbing at the crotch of his pants, squeezing and kneading while mumbling to herself and telling Brian to hold still, goddammit. Brian, his cheeks wet with tears, was holding his hands protectively between his legs. “Erma, you leave him alone!” I shouted. Erma, still on her knees, twisted around and glared at me. “Why, you little bitch!” she said. Lori heard the commotion and came running. I told Lori that Erma was touching Brian in a way she ought not to be.” Ch. 33, Pg. 461

"The other girls talked endlessly among themselves about who still had their cherry and how far they would let their boyfriend go." Ch. 46, Pg. 632

PROFANITY COUNT (or other sensitive words to give context)

  • f*ck 1

  • p*ssy 1

  • c*nt 1

  • a*s 4

  • b*tch 9 (sonofab*itch, etc.)

  • b*stard 6

  • nigger 6 (niggers, Niggerville, nigger lover)

  • screw 1

  • whore 8

  • faggot 1

  • rape 3

  • drunk 21

  • beer 21

  • pissed 3

  • shit 7 (shit-hole, bullshit, shit-for-brains)

  • demon 17

  • damn 44

  • Jesus 2 (in vain, Jesus H. Christ)

  • virgin 1

  • penis 1

  • wanker 2 (also wanking off)

  • God 34 (in vain, oh my God, by God, godforsaken, Goddamn, Goddammit)


  • Sexual Content (Masturbation, Molestation, Sexual Assaults)

  • Physical abuse (Peer to Peer)

  • Extreme Violence

  • Bigotry

  • Alcohol & Drug Use (Beer/Cigarettes, Alcoholism & Drunk Driving)

  • Extreme Profanity

  • Condemnation of Christianity

  • Mental Health Issues

  • Extreme Poverty

  • Child Abuse, Abandonment and Neglect

  • Solicitation of Prostitutes

  • Adult Situations




Jeannette Walls writes her memoir about her tragic childhood of poverty, mental health issues, alcoholism, sexual assault, molestation and much more.

At three years old, Jeannette lives in a trailer park with Mom, Dad, her older sister Lori, and her little brother Brian. Jeannette’s tutu catches fire while she cooks hot dogs over a stove, and her mother rushes her to the hospital for an emergency skin graft. After six weeks in the hospital, Dad smuggles her out without paying the bill. Back at home, Jeannette goes back to cooking unsupervised and starts playing with matches.

One night, Dad makes the family pack all their belongings into the family car and move towns in the middle of the night, a routine he calls “doing the skedaddle.” Over the next several years, the Wallses do the skedaddle dozens of times, moving all over to stay ahead of debt collectors and law enforcement. They spend a month or two in larger cities like Las Vegas and San Francisco, where Dad can make quick money by gambling. Most of the time, however, the Wallses live in isolated desert mining towns, where Mom and Dad teach their children reading and math, as well as specialized survival skills. Dad drinks often and struggles to keep a job for long, but he promises his family that their nomadic lifestyle is temporary. He promises to find gold and build his family the Glass Castle, a large, self-sustaining home made out of glass.

When Jeannette is in first grade, Mom gives birth to another baby, Maureen. Dad moves the family to Battle Mountain, Nevada, where he works as an electrician. The family enjoys six months of relative stability until Dad loses his job. After an explosive argument, Mom gets a teaching job. Dad confiscates most of her paycheck, and the family continues to go hungry. Their time in Nevada comes to an end when Billy Deel, a delinquent neighbor boy whose advances Jeannette rejected, comes to the Walls residence and opens fire with his BB gun. Jeannette returns fire with Dad’s pistol. She misses him on purpose, but the police get involved. The family flees to Phoenix. On the way to Phoenix, Jeannette learns that Grandma Smith has passed, leaving Mom a large sum of money and a house. They move into the massive house, and Dad gets a job as an electrician. For about a year, the kids enjoy regular meals, their own bicycles, and public schooling. Unfortunately, Dad loses his job, and his alcoholism reaches crushing lows. The family is once again destitute. Mom decides it’s time to move to Dad’s hometown of Welch, West Virginia.

When the Wallses arrive in Welch, they stay with Jeannette’s paternal grandmother, Erma. Erma is a bitter, unwelcoming host, and most people in Welch regard the Wallses as self-important outsiders. When Mom and Dad leave for an extended road trip to Phoenix, Erma molests Brian. Jeannette and Lori confront her, but Erma retaliates violently. Dad takes Erma’s side when he returns, but Erma evicts the family. The Wallses buy a small, rotting house with no running water or indoor plumbing. Dad admits that the conditions are not ideal, but promises to use the land to begin construction on the Glass Castle. To help Dad get started on the Glass Castle, Brian and Jeannette dig a large hole for the foundation, but the family soon fills it with garbage. To survive, the kids start dumpster diving and stealing food from their classmates and neighbors. Desperate, Jeannette begs Mom to divorce Dad so they can go on welfare, but Mom refuses.

When the Wallses get a visit from child protective services, Mom finds a teaching job. The money could solve their problems, but Dad’s extensive drinking once again drains their funds, and the family continues to go hungry. The following summer, Mom goes to Charleston for several weeks to renew her teaching license. Left in control of the family finances, Jeannette finds that she, too, gives into Dad’s demands for more money. When Mom returns from Charleston, she announces that she will quit her job and devote all her time to art. Jeannette finally confronts Mom and Dad about their selfishness, but Dad whips her in retaliation. Appalled, Jeannette and Lori plan to move to New York City as soon as possible. Jeannette, Lori, and Brian find jobs around Welch and save all their money for almost a year, but Dad steals the money just months before Lori’s planned departure. In the end, Jeannette secures Lori a summer babysitting job that includes a bus ticket to New York City as payment.

Lori loves life in New York City, where she works in a restaurant and lives in a women’s hostel. Jeannette moves to the city a year later and finishes high school there, interning at a Brooklyn newspaper for credit. Brian follows a year later. Jeannette starts college at Barnard, putting herself through with grants, loans, and savings from odd jobs. Maureen moves in with Lori at age twelve. Dad accuses Lori of stealing his children, and he and Mom move to New York City three years later. After being kicked out of several apartments, Mom and Dad first live on the streets, and then become squatters. At this point, Jeannette has married and works at a prestigious magazine. Lori is an artist, and Brian is a police officer. Maureen drops out of college and moves in with Mom and Dad. Maureen tries to stab Mom, and must spend a year in a psychiatric hospital. The family drifts apart, and a year later Dad dies of a heart attack. Five years after Dad’s death, Jeannette and her second husband, John, host the family for Thanksgiving, though without Maureen. They toast to Dad’s life.

(Above summary from SparkNotes.)

Parents need to know that:

  • The main character is sexually assaulted 5 times throughout the book all when she is a minor (see below).

  • Much discussion surrounding prostitution (Green Lantern (brothel) and Ginnie Sue Pastor, plus.). Main character wants to know about whoring.

  • Grandma Walls molests her grandson, Brian.

  • Countless inappropriate, adult situations for a child throughout (drunk neighbor exposed, cruel child joke on slow child told to strip down to his 'wanker' to get a date with Jeannette)

  • Father is atheist and belittles the Virgin Mary, has outburst in church challenging God; frequently uses the Lord's name in vain; mother makes reference to 10 Commandments as suggestions.; Uncle Stanley listens to a radio program where people are speaking in tongues; As he nears death, Rex says he’s been reading about chaos theory and quantum physics. Some of the calculations he’s seen are starting to convince him maybe God does exist.;

  • Maureen goes with Pentecostals to snake-handling revivals and frequently comes home saying she’s been baptized or born again.

  • Mother (Rose Mary), speaking frankly of the 9-month-old child she lost, says God had given her a child that wasn’t perfect so He said, “Oops,” and thought He’d better take it back.

  • Conversations involving witch doctors, curses, voodoo and father takes Jeanette on demon hunts.

  • Mom says it's justifiable to shoplift for daughter, Maureen, and does.

  • Dinitia, the black girl from the swimming pool, becomes pregnant by her mother’s boyfriend and is arrested for stabbing him to death.

  • Bigotry towards the black community; use of n word.

  • Child abuse, abandonment and neglect throughout (too many situations to list).

  • Father and mother get in numerous physical altercations that are near fatal, children traumatized (to put it lightly).

  • Heavy alcoholism scenarios played out with the father.

  • Major mental health issues with mother and father throughout.

Sexual Assaults on Jeanette (main character):

#1 When she was 8, boy (Billy Deel) playing hide-n-seek assaults her and pushed his penis on her.

#2 - Homeless man breaks and enters and runs his hands on her privates over her panties.

#3 - Uncle Stanley put his hand on her thigh while his pants were unzipped and he was playing with himself. Mom said “Sexual assault was a crime of perception. If you don’t think you’re hurt, then you’re not.”

#4 - Guy who they hustled in bar at pool, gets drunk and puts his hands all over Jeanette, and with Dad's blessing, takes Jeanette upstairs, throws her on the bed and starts to kiss her (assault her) before she gets away.

#5 - In the store where she got a job, the owner, Mr. Becker, would rub up against her back side after watching someone he was sexually attracted to on tv.

Numerous VERY heavy situations. At some point you wonder if this is all nonfiction.


"Although she thought nuns were killjoys and she didn't follow all the church's rules word for word-- she treated the Ten Commandments more like the Ten Suggestions..." Ch. 24, Pg. 333

(referencing the Virgin Mary)...."Virgin, my ass!” Dad shouted. “Mary was a sweet Jewish broad who got herself knocked up!” The service came to a dead halt. Everyone was staring. The choir had swiveled around in unison and were gaping openmouthed. Even the priest was speechless. Dad had a satisfied grin on his face. “And Jesus H. Christ is the world’s best-loved bastard!” Ch. 26, Pg. 368

"Dad had been raised Baptist, but he didn't like religion and he didn't believe in God." Ch. 24, Pg. 335

"Guess what?" Billy shouted. "I raped you!" Ch. 21, Pg. 277

“Rose Mary, where the goddamn hell are you, you stinking bitch?” he yelled. “Where is that whore hiding?” Ch.8, Pg. 392

(Jeanette is 8 yrs old) ...... "Billy smushed his face against mine, then grabbed my hair and made my head bend sideways and stuck his tongue in my mouth. It was slimy and disgusting, but when I tried to pull away, he pushed in toward me. The more I pulled the more he pushed until he was on top of me and I felt his fingers tugging at my shorts. His other hand was unbuttoning his own pants. To stop him, I put my hand down there, and when I touched it, I knew what it was, even though I had never touched one before. Ch. 21, Pg. 275

TV rating

The Motion Picture Association film rating system is used in the United States and its territories to rate a motion picture's suitability for certain audiences based on its content. Nudity that is sexually oriented will require an R rating. Uncle Stanley "wanking off" (Ch. 41, Pg. 582) while groping his niece constitutes sexually oriented nudity thus this title, if made into a film as written, would receive an R rating.

Rated R: Restricted – Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Pervasively vulgar content. Not appropriate for K-12 schools.



Below version for Canyon ISD:

The Glass Castle Flyer
Download PDF • 1.29MB

Below version to use in any school district. We have left the bottom line blank so that you may insert your own library or reading list names. We have also left some blank space on the last page so that you can insert a message or your own board of trustees. Go get 'em!

The Glass Castle Flyer_Blank
Download PDF • 1.28MB

Canyon Independent School District (CISD) is in Region 16 of Texas and covers the Amarillo and Canyon, TX, areas in the Texas Panhandle. CISD is under the superintendent supervision of Dr. Daryl Flusche.


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