Thursday, March 4, 2010

book review: half broke horses

The day is finally here to review Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls! This is the first book the Slow Readers Book Club took on. You'll probably see a lot of talk about it today as there are over 230 members in the club now and many of them will be posting a review to their blogs.

First of all: great cover photo, right? I went through several chapters of the book imagining the main character, Lily Casey Smith, as the girl on the left and thinking the other two must be her siblings Buster and Helen. Then I realized that it's one of those Dorothea Lange photos for the Farm Security Administration taken during the Depression! So those aren't the Casey kids. I know, this is irrelevant to the story -- it's just one of the first things I made a note of because I like having mental images of characters. However, there are some real pictures of the family scattered throughout the book.

I just realized this may turn out to be really rambly and I'd like to apologize. It's been a while since I've had to do a book report! And since no one is grading me (presumably) I'm probably not going to work too hard on making it perfect.

Overall, I enjoyed the book-- more than I thought I was going to. Jeannette Walls writes in first person from her grandmother Lily's point of view, and the book has the feel of stories handed down from a grandmother. Not a polite grandmother, mind you, but a really hardcore grandma! One to be admired for her hard life and maybe feared a little bit. For her time, she seems to have been fairly forward-thinking. The book follows Lily from childhood until her own children are grown up, and throughout her life she is an incredibly independent woman. I don't want to give away too many plot points for those of you who'd like to read the book in the future, but I would like to share some of my favorite quotes.

The following exchange is between Lily and her daughter. At the time, they were living with a Polygamist group where Lily worked as a teacher.

"That's what they believe," I told her, "but that doesn't mean it's true."

"Then why do they believe it?"

"America is a free country," I said. "And that means people are free to believe whatever cockamamie thing they want to believe."

"So they don't have to believe it if they don't want to?" Rosemary asked.

"No, they don't."

"But do they know that?"

Smart kid. That, I came to see, was the heart of the matter. You were free to choose enslavement, but the choice was a free one only if you knew what your alternatives were.

I really liked the way Lily was always questioning authority and common beliefs. And it was interesting to see how her own views on life progressed throughout the book: as a child she really looked up to her father and his way of doing things; when she grew up, however, she saw how hard headed and old fashioned he was sometimes. Similarly, as she grew older in the book she seemed to become more set in her ways and more stubborn with her own daughter. Of course, all of this is written from my grandaughter's perspective, with input from Rosemary (Jeannette's mother and Lily's daughter), so I know there have to be some missing pieces that were filled in.

Here's another quote that I like -- this one is between Lily and her husband and they're talking about their daughter's decisions...

"I feel like I failed," I said.

"Don't beat yourself up," Jim said. "She might not have turned out like you planned, but that don't mean she turned out wrong."

I feel like that's something all parents should keep in mind! You know, however many exciting things go on in this book, I think a lot of it comes down to a mother-daughter relationship. The book ends abruptly without many resolutions, and the rest of the story picks up in The Glass Castle, also by Jeannette Walls. It's a memoir about her own life: a really wild ride, both fascinating and sad. After finishing Half Broke Horses, I checked out The Glass Castle at the library and finished reading it in one weekend. I can't stop thinking about it.

For those wondering about the title "Half Broke Horses," Lily grew up breaking [taming] horses with her dad. A good part of the book takes place on a ranch, so the horse references continue throughout the book. She also refers to quite a few people as half broke horses - wild spirits who are just barely tamed.

The book isn't perfect, and I say that mostly because there were some unanswered questions and scenes I wish had been further elaborated. But I also know that Ms. Walls was trying to stay as true to life as she could, and she didn't have all of the details. It's understandable!

I would definitely recommend reading this book [followed by The Glass Castle], and I'm looking forward to the next book club assignment! If you would like to join the Slow Readers, we have a forum here. Happy reading!


  1. "Don't beat yourself up," Jim said. "She might not have turned out like you planned, but that don't mean she turned out wrong."

    I love that quote too! That can be applied to a lot of areas of life. We plan and plan and when it doesn't turn out like it's supposed to, we are upset. Just because it's not what we wanted doesn't mean it's not wonderful. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. i also loved that one section when she talks to her daughter about the polygamists!

  3. "The book isn't perfect, and I say that mostly because there were some unanswered questions and scenes I wish had been further elaborated."

    I felt the same about the lack of detail sometimes...

  4. So so nice post !

  5. SO interesting about the cover! I didn't even think of that and yes, you are right, I thought it was the family, lol.

    Great review! It really does help when you read the Glass Castle, right?

  6. Great review! I definitely agree about some questions being left unanswered.
    I'm now curios about the Glass Castle!

  7. great post! i sometimes thought that the book had some "prequel" aspects to it. i haven't read glass castle yet but there were definite references that i thought i should know more about. that's probably the "lack of detail" in some parts, for me anyway. i really liked the book though. she definitely was a hard core grandma!

  8. Great review! I can't wait to finish the book :) And I'm loving Lily as well!

  9. i thought it was the family on the cover, too -- haha! going to read The Glass Castle next

  10. Great review! I loved that dialogue about the polygamists, too. One of my favorites.

  11. wow such a great review! I love that you put quotes in!
    Glad you enjoyed the book:)


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