Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book Review - Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

Title: Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel
Author: Jeannette Walls
Year: 2009
Page: 288
Genre: Fiction

New to me author? No
Read this author again? Yes
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle was "nothing short of spectacular" (Entertainment Weekly). Now she brings us the story of her grandmother -- told in a voice so authentic and compelling that the book is destined to become an instant classic.

"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.

First Sentence:
Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.  

Why did I pick this book?
The Glass Castle is one of my favorite memoirs. Wasn't sure if I really want to read this one, but heard good reviews, so decided to see if I really do like Walls' writing.

My thoughts:
  • To be honest, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read this book - I don't really have much interest in reading about cowboys and ranchers. Have also read both positive and some not-so-positive reviews of this 2nd book. As I really enjoyed Walls' writing and how she unfolded her story in The Glass Castle, I thought I'd at least give this one a try to see if I want to read more of her books in the future
  • The story really sucked me in! While the first page was a bit boring, but each chapter was very short and it was just very easy to read. Even though I was not interested in "western" stories, it became quite fascinating about how they lived, and the skills it required to be a rancher (especially Walls' step grandpa)
  • You know how someone would describe others as "isn't she something?" - I kept thinking isn't Walls' grandmother, Casey Lily Smith, "something". She was courageous, resourceful, practical, passionate (teaching, family), hard working, devoted to her family, and just a go getter. Now, how much of it was really true? As Walls mentioned, since what she had was second hand information, that's why she called it a "True Life Novel" as opposed to a biography. Regardless, the story was well told

  • I would have loved to see more pictures (if there were more), especially Casey's Scarlett O'Hara dress!

  • Even though I don't typically re-read books (too many books out there I want to read!) - after I finish this book, it made me want to re-read The Glass Castle - just to see how her grandmother and her parents was portrayed in The Glass Castle, now that we had some more back stories. Walls mentioned that she wanted to write a book about her mother first, but her mother encouraged her to write about her grandmother instead. I still think she should write one about her mother - there is still a gap about how she became what she is today (the book ended with her getting married to Walls' dad). Especially since Walls' uncle seemed to live a rather normal life later in life, compared to Walls' mother as described in The Glass Castle, despite having the same upbringing. In fact, a book about Walls' father might even be more revealing.
  • I'll definitely read more Walls' books in the future! 

    At the same time, Dad was working on a book arguing the case for phonetic spelling. He called it A Ghoti out of Water. "Ghoti," he liked to point out, could be pronounced like "fish." The "gh" had the "f" sound in "enough," the "o" had the short "i" sound in "women," and "ti" had the "sh" sound in "nation." (p35)

    I'd have to learn how to get along. The best way to do that, Dad said, was to figure out what somebody wanted, because everybody wanted something, and make them think you could help them get it. (p37)

    Every kid was good at something, and the trick was to find out what it was, then use it to teach him everything else. (p63-64)

    If people want to steal from you, they get you to trust them first. And what they take from you is not only your money but also you trust. (p85)

    "What I needed to do was separate the actual pain from the fear that something terrible was happening to my body. "The pain is your body complaining," she said. "If you listen to the pain and tell your body,'Yeah, I hear you,' then you won't be so afraid of it. I'm not saying the pain goes away, but it ain't gonna make you crazy, either." (p118)

    "You know what's the greatest thing about painting?" she said one day. "What?" "if there's something about the world that you don't like, you can paint a painting that makes it the way you want it to be." (p299)

     Rating: 4 Stars

    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!

    100+ Reading


    1. I, too, love The Glass Castle and I just bought this book. It's a book club selection for me for Feb. Thanks for your review--I can't wait to be sucked in!

    2. Like you I loved Glass Castle. For the reasons you said I don't think I will have interest in reading this one but if she does a story about her mom or father, I will be all over it.

      Great review.

    3. @Mrs. DeRaps - Can't wait to see what you think! I hope you like it too. It seems like it'd be a good book club choice, especially if the members have read The Glass Castle.

      @Marce - this one surprised me. I was totally not expected to finish it, let alone like it. I think I just like Walls' writing, and that this book has a strong character and I admire her qualities. Each chapter is also very short (3 pages or so) which made it easy to read. Even though I don't have an interest in ranches, after reading this book I thought it may be cool to visit one some day (as long as I don't have to do the ranch work lol.)