As the novel opens, Jeannette now living in New York City is on her way to a dinner party when she sees her homeless mother picking through the trash. She expresses shame at not wanting to stop and talk to her mother, afraid that someone she knows might see her and find out her parents are homeless. This begins the journey we take with Jeannette through her unstable, dysfunctional childhood with her alcoholic father, her free spirit mother and her 2 sisters and brother. They travel the country starting in Phoenix and ending up in West Virginia uprooting when someone is after them for money or they can’t find work. The Walls children are often left to fend for themselves and are often forced to live in deplorable conditions. As Jeannette and her siblings grow older they start to grow apart from their parents and finally break free one by one to end up in New York City (except for the youngest who goes to California). The parents soon follow and choose to live on the streets of New York which is where we meet Jeannette at the beginning of the novel.
This is the true definition of a dysfunctional family but the strange thing is there is a lot of love and loyalty too. When the social worker comes by to investigate the children chase him off saying there is nothing wrong even though they are hungry and living in a shack that could fall down around them any minute. My mother was an alcoholic so I can relate to everything Jeannette went though with her father Rex. Fortunately in my case my dad raised me so I had a normal childhood. Unfortunately for Jeannette in her childhood her mother was someone who was more interested in pursuing her art career that never took off than making sure her kids were fed and clothed. I am in awe of Jeannette and her siblings who were able to survive a childhood full of so much upheaval and (mostly) come out alright in the end.
She tells the story in such a matter of fact way and doesn’t really play to the emotions of the reader which I thought was a little different. The story itself is so troubling that you can’t help but be touched by it though. This memoir was a page turner that I couldn’t put down.