"The Glass Castle: A Memoir" is the story of author Jeanette Walls' life from childhood through college and her career as a journalist. The story focuses on Walls' nomadic and unconventional family and the author's relationships with her parents and four siblings.
The title "The Glass Castle" is a reference to Jeanette Walls' father, Rex Walls. In the early part of the story, Rex is constantly moving the family. He tells his family that they are moving in search of gold and that when he strikes it rich, he plans to build them a glass castle.
Much of the book focuses on Jeanette's parents, Rex and Mary. Rex is portrayed as a very smart and likable man who is an alcoholic. Jeanette's mother, Mary, is shown to be cold toward her children and out of touch with reality. Often the children have no food, running water or appropriate clothing; and, the mother fails to react, instead she tells the children that they are on an adventure. The author's early years are spent running from town to town, to escape her father's creditors.
The story follows the children's lives as they each decide to leave the parents' home and move to New York. Once all of the children arrive in New York, they each find success and stability they never had in their lives with their parents. The author eventually lands a job as a journalist; but, she does not speak about her upbringing, because she is afraid to lose the success she has earned.
Eventually, the parents move to New York and make the choice to live on the streets to be near their children. The author explores why the parents make this choice when they actually had assets; and, she concludes that this is the life they want to live.