This was an incredible memoir which I listened to on my iPod over the last week or so. (It kept me awake on a solo drive to Bend!) Jeanette Walls is a very successful reporter working in New York now, which is a great, but not terribly amazing. But reading this story and finding out about her path to get there makes it and incredibly amazing fact.
Jeanette Walls grew up poor like most of us have never personally encountered. Often the places she live were dilapidated and sometimes even downright dangerous. For much of her life she had no indoor plumbing, sometimes having to go out and dig a hole in the hillside to go to the bathroom. She was often hungry. One story she relates is of a time when she and her sister ate a stick of butter for dinner because that was the only food in the house. Many days she dug through the garbage cans in the lunchroom or bathroom at school to find something to eat. She often went without a warm coat or shoes that fit. IT is an existence I cannot even imagine.
The relationship she had with her parents is also something I can never imagine. Her parents were certainly not caretakers of their children (she has three siblings). Even though they could have worked to support their family, buy them food, clothes, mattresses, they chose not to. Her father actually did work sometimes, but he was an alcoholic, and this would often lead to him losing his job, so his income was not steady. And generally he drank away whatever he did earn, so it wasn't that helpful anyway... Her mother worked very infrequently as a teacher, but basically felt that her children should be able to take are of themselves. She had her own things to worry about.
And yet, in spite of all these obstacles in her way, Jeanette Walls made it! It's an incredible story. What is also incredible is that she's not bitter or blaming - things I am nearly sure I would be if I were in her position.
As a teacher I think this was a really good book for me to read, because although I hope my students are not in such extreme situations as Jeanette was, I am sure I'd be surprised, and I want to keep this in mind. I expect kid to come to school ready to learn, but what if they come to school just hoping to get some food out of the garbage can. How can I expect them to be ready to learn? And how can I make a difference for them? I want to think about this. As a librarian I want to keep this story in mind as well, because Jeanette and her family found a lot of refuge in the library and books, and I want my library to be that kind of place. A place where kids who need a refuge, who need resources, can get them, whenever they need them.
I read an interesting interview with her here, which gives some different perspective on issues that I was thinking about as I read. I think reading this book has made me think more about others, and any book that does that deserves a recommendation from me. This one definitely does for high school readers and up.
Available at the Multnomah County Library.