Half Broke Horses (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch


Half Broke Horses
Jeannette Walls, 2009
288 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
February 2010

You can't help but read Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle and not wonder "where on earth did her mother come from?" (Not earth maybe, but...where?) Walls began this book, her second, writing about her mother but ended up focusing on her mother's mother instead.

A most happy decision as it turns out. Lily Casey Smith, reared in early 20th-century Texas, is an American original—smart, feisty and undeterred by setbacks that would unhinge the best of us.

Her father, kindly and bookish, looms large in Lily's life. He encourages her to physical exertion and bravery, as well as scholarship. Lily always rises to the challenge—and goes well beyond.

With a labor shortage during World War I, Lily takes a teaching position in one of the most remote outposts of civilization. To get there, she must travel 500 miles on horseback, a trip that takes weeks. She is 15—and alone. This is only one of Lily's astonishing feats in a book filled with them.

Like Walls' earlier work, Half Broke Horses is a compulsive read. Not only does the author draw sharp, poignant portraits of her family, but she paints a breathtaking landscape of the West—its rugged terrain and the equally rugged men and women who eke out a living in spite of it.

If I have any reservations, it's Lily's unvarying voice—a problem that risks reader fatigue—and a self-regard, toward the end, that veers into arrogance. Still, I enjoyed Half Broke Horses—for its wonderful characterizations and its rich slice of Americana. It's a very good read.

See our Reading Guide for Half Broke Horses.

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