Friday, October 26, 2012
Review: Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, in Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town -- riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.
Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It will transfix readers everywhere.
What a beautiful story Jeannette Walls created describing the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Through a first person narrative, we are given a glimpse into the hard life this woman led, and I can tell you, she was one tough cookie.
We follow Lily's life from when she was a young girl living on her parent's ranch in Texas, to her following her dreams. When she first decides she has had enough life on the ranch, she heads for a new life in Chicago. Life in the big city turns out to be more than she bargained for when she meets up with a man who turns out to be probably the biggest sleazeball she ever met, and then losing the first true friend of her life.
She finds herself heading back to her family in Texas, to find her mind opened up to the dream of becoming a teacher. Knowing that she needs to make a life of her own, she heads out on her horse for a one-month journey to her first teaching destination. This is the first of many teaching jobs for young Lily, as she doesn't conform easily to other's directions and ideas. She is a woman who stands up for her convictions and will not ever be easily swayed.
We follow Lily throughout her adult life as she finds love and deals with personal tragedies. She moves across the Western United States, not afraid of what she will find when she gets there, but enjoying the journey along the way. I developed a respect for Lily throughout this book, just knowing what she endured throughout her life. She gave every task her all, and was never afraid to try something new. How her daughter Rosemary turned out to be a woman without ambitions I guess I will never understand.
This was an awesome story that was enjoyed by all of the ladies in my book group. Overall, our group enjoyed this one more than The Glass Castle. I enjoyed both of them about the same, but I think there were many more points in this book that just made me laugh out loud. I mean, if you have read this book, can you tell me that the Mormon's "Wonder Underwear" did not make you laugh? With themes of love, family, struggles, perseverance, and home, this book made for a wonderful book club selection. Don't be afraid to read it for your own entertainment though. I highly recommend this true-life novel.
My Rating: 5/5
Disclosure: This book is part of my personal collection and I read it as a book club selection and for personal enjoyment.