Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Jeannette Walls: Half Broke Horses

About a month ago, I picked this up off the stack of “Read Me’s” . . . ummm . . . errr . . . one of the stacks of “Read Me’s.” (If there is some sort of emoticon for mild embarrassment, insert it here; one of my fatal flaws is acquiring book I WANT to read and having more books than I have time to read.)

I think Amazon recommended Half Broke Horses to me, and I didn’t know why. They keep track of what I buy and make recommendations, which over the many years I have been using to buy books has become more and more relevant to the kinds of things I actually buy and read. So I bought Half Broke Horses, and another one recommended by the same author, then put them in the stack. It is only because I had read whatever I put on top of them that I ended up reading.

I casually started reading, without a lot of anticipation. The first chapter starts off in the early early days of our country, in the wilds of West Texas, as a girl and her younger brother and sister are out checking the cows, who suddenly go crazy, even jumping over fences which under almost every circumstance successfully pen them in. The young girl recognized something strange was going on and figured it was a flash flood coming, got her siblings up in the tree and keeps them awake all night, as the flood hits, hoping the tree will hold and not wash away.

What is your first thought, reading that? Mine was – Where are her parents?? No one is out searching for them?

The next day, the flood recedes enough for them to make their way home back to a primitive dwelling hollowed out in the high side of a riverbank, dirt floors, dirt crumbling down on them, dark, small, smokey. Yes, there is a mother and a father, and they love their children, but these are very different times. These are hard times, where there is no grocery store, no nearby doctor, where babies die and children have fatal accidents all the time. Life can be short and brutal. The kids have some schooling, mostly at home, they learn to read and write and add and subtract, so they can keep track of home related business. They also work hard, every child has work around the ranch that needs doing, and work comes first or the family won’t survive.

The heroine, Lily Casey Smith, is a real person, the grandmother of the author, Jeannette Walls. This is called a true-life novel. From all the stories she heard about her grandmother growing up, and from knowing her grandmother, and from all the legends about her grandmother she was able to verify, she built a skeleton, and then filled it in with conversations and even a few events that she had to imagine.

Lily Casey left her family at 15 to ride her horse 25 days across Texas to take a teaching job in a one-room schoolhouse. (My jaw dropped, too!) After several years of teaching, she goes to Chicago to become educated and licensed as a teacher, marries, annuls the marriage, returns home, finds a teaching job, races horses, marries again, has children, has a huge ranch, loses the huge ranch, manages a huge ranch . . . her story is bigger than life, but so is the person of her grandmother, who never falls apart, but looks life in the eye and copes with it. Better than coping, she dominates.

Her major opponents are tough economic times, and dramatic and devastating weather conditions. Rain can fail to fall for months, cattle can die in an unexpected cold snap. At the best of times, you have enough to eat and a roof over your head.

I never wanted the book to end, and, in a sense, it didn’t. Jeannette Walls big best seller, The Glass Castle, takes up with just a little overlap where Half Broke Horses leaves off.

Here is what I loved: I loved the voice of Lily Casey Smith. She’s the kind of woman I want for a friend. She’s smart. She has a sense of how things work in the world. She experiences tragedies, but she doesn’t let them hurt her self-confidence. She can be beaten, but she always gets up again. She’s a problem solver. She never once lets being a woman get in the way of being the person she was born to be. She overcomes. She doesn’t sugar coat; she tells it as she sees it. And you know you can count on what she says to be the truth as she believes it. I truly hated for this book to end.

You can find this book at used under a dollar to new hardcover around $15. It is worth every cent.

June 17, 2011 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Character, Cultural, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Marriage, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues


  1. so many books at one go!!! wow! have to go thru it in leisure.. reading reviews takes time, really marvel at your rate of reading, consumption of books! 😉

    Comment by onlooker | June 19, 2011 | Reply

  2. Onlooker, it was over the course of a month that I read them, and they just stacked up, waiting for me to write the reviews. There are actually a couple others I didn’t review, a really good new Kamil Pasha mystery set in Ottoman Turkey, and a couple other things I didn’t care enough about to mention.

    Comment by intlxpatr | June 19, 2011 | Reply

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