"The Glass Castle" follows the life of Jeannette Walls, starting when she is a child, and her family moves from place to place as her father, Rex Walls, goes from job to job. Eventually she and her sister move to New York City, where Jeannette becomes a reporter.
The memoir begins with Jeannette riding in a taxi and seeing her mother digging through trash. She reflects on her life, starting when she was 3 years old and burned herself on the stove. She spends a few days in the hospital before Rex gets her. They leave without paying the bill, which her family refers to as "the skedaddle."
The family moves frequently due to Rex's issues, including alcoholism. They move to Phoenix, Arizona, after Jeannette's mother, Rose Mary, inherits a house there, but she later suggests they move to Welch, West Virginia, to be around Rex's family.
In Welch, Rex's mother sexually abuses Jeannette's younger brother, Brian. Jeannette's parents buy a decrepit shack, and the family lives with little food. Jeannette begins to realize her parents' mistakes. She and her older sister Lori plan to escape by moving to New York City when Lori graduates.
Although it doesn't go exactly as planned, Lori does move to New York City, and Jeannette joins her after her junior year of high school. Brian does the same, and their youngest sister Maureen joins them at the age of 12. All the siblings except Maureen find success as adults.