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unconventional upbringing and good posture

It’s hard to imagine that a successful writer who has worked at MSNBC, Esquire and USA Today once lived in a shack with no heat, running water or electricity. From the moment Jeannette Walls drives by her mother digging through a NYC dumper, “The Glass Castle” grabs your attention and locks on.

I read this book in a weekend and wish I never finished it. Walls tells her heartbreaking story without an ounce of bitterness or self-pity, growing up with two sisters, a brother and nomadic parents who couldn’t hold down jobs and liked to frequent isolated mining towns and sunken, abandoned shacks.

“Dad was so sure a posse of federal investigators was on our trail that he smoked his unfiltered cigarettes from the wrong end. That way, he explained, he burned up the brand name, and if the people who were tracking us looked in his ashtray, they’d find unidentifiable butts instead of Pall Malls that could be traced to him. Mom, however, told us that the FBI wasn’t really after Dad; he just liked to say they were because it was more fun having the FBI on your tail than bill collectors.”

At the age of 3, Walls was already cooking for herself – a feat that landed her in the hospital with severe burns. Walls’ flightily artistic mother, Rose Mary, and alcoholic father, Rex, were obviously ill-suited to raise children, but certainly weren’t lacking love. (This is evident when Walls almost drops out of college, and her father, who is homeless, gives her money for school. “So, when I enrolled for my final year at Barnard, I paid what I owed on my tuition with Dad’s wadded, crumpled bills.”)

Even though their parents were extremely untraditional and often irresponsible, Walls has you convinced that they’re parenting skills weren’t all that bad. “Mom had us all reading books without pictures by the time we were five, and Dad taught us math. He also taught us the things that were really important and useful, like how to tap out Morse code and how we should never eat the liver of a polar bear because all the vitamin A in it could kill us.”

When the Walls children were occasionally enrolled in school, they were much more advanced than their classmates. “Sometimes [Dad] made me do my arithmetic homework in binary numbers because he said I needed to be challenged.”

The children with raised with tough love and no illusions of Santa Clause. “Mom always said people worried too much about their children. Suffering when you’re young is good for you, she said. It immunized your body and soul.” Maybe her mom had a point.

This bizarre story makes you reevaluate your life – if these children with nothing could make Somethings out of themselves, how do you compare? The Walls children were taught to make do with what they had, and not to complain about it. “We slept under the stars. We had no pillows, but Dad said that was part of the plan. He was teaching us to have good posture.”

This story is heartbreaking and uplifting. Walls speaks with frank honesty and a clear, untainted tone, which is amazing considering all the abuse and neglect she encountered. Her story is much like that of a Joshua tree.

“From the time the Joshua tree was a tiny sapling, it had been so beaten down by the whipping wind that, rather than trying to grow skyward, it had grown in the direction that the wind pushed it … leaning over so far that it seemed ready to topple, although, in fact, its roots held it firmly in place. I thought the Joshua tree was ugly.”

But when Walls wanted to replant the tree to protect it, her mother stopped her. “You’d be destroying what makes it special," she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.”

Walls’ story is certainly beautiful. It will touch you, tire you and inspire you. It’s a Lost and Bound that’s definitely worth finding.

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“unconventional upbringing and good posture”