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Book Review: Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

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Jeannette Walls is shaping up to be one of this decade's most fascinating storytellers. The adventures of her family in The Glass Castle were mesmerizing and truly an unforgettable read. With a pen that glows with brilliance, her writing in Half Broke Horses is bedazzling. In her words, this is the true life novel of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who died when the author was eight. Half Broke Horses portrays her grandmother’s life told through all of the many stories she heard as a child.

The novel is told in first person from the point of view of her grandmother. The opening chapter begins, “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” However, no matter what trouble faced Lily Casey Smith, she would have the intelligence, the determination, the answers, and always the faith in herself that she would survive.

As the story opens, faced with the onslaught of a flash flood, Lily has the presence of mind to gather her two siblings together and hoist them into a cottonwood tree, where they hang on precariously during a harrowing night, holding on until morning. Lily is ten and when her mother sees her three children coming home the following morning, she praises the Lord, the guardian angels, and her constant prayer for saving the three.

Lily is perturbed and says to her dad, “There weren’t no guardian angel, Dad.” She knows their survival had nothing to do with prayer and she is quick to explain it was her vigilant fight to save her brother and sister that kept them alive. Lily is a realist, and she believes there was no guardian angel up in that tree. It was Lily Casey Smith, one tough kid, who was up in the tree making the right decisions.

One other time early in the book, Walls relates a story about her grandmother when she was 15 and accepted a job as a teacher. Lily has no degree in teaching, but has enough education to satisfy the school district’s needs. The town is over 500 miles away, but Lily needs a job. Lily must make the journey on her horse Patches to Red Lake, Arizona, by herself and so she sets out on her trip with a fearless, spunky spirit of adventure.

Walls' novel is a touching, honest portrait of an idiosyncratically warm and loving grandmother, mother, and wife who was raised on the wild side of nature. She was, in my opinion, “a hoot.” You will love this woman and come to understand that there is absolutely nothing in life that could stand in her way when she set her mind to it.

Half Broke Horses is an inspirational memoir and true life novel that will make you chuckle, weep, and simply savor like a warm cup of tea. The greatest challenge in this book was not being able to put it down. With my predilection for Jeannette Walls’ writing I eagerly anticipate future releases as my cup of tea is getting cold.

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