[Jennette Walls] has managed to make her second book almost as inviting as her first, even though its upright heroine is never as startling as Ms. Walls's parents were... Ms. Walls's readers...know that when Rex and Rosemary become the parents of a "Little Critter" named Jeannette at the end of Half Broke Horses, a pretty doggone good storyteller is born.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
[Laura Ingalls] Wilder's stories have acquired such mythic power…that it can be easy to forget how many American families shared similar histories, each withtheir own touchstones of calamity, endurance and hard-won reward. With convincing, unprettified narration, Walls weaves her own ancestor into this collective rough-and-tumble heritage.
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times Book Review
For the first 10 years of her life, Lily Casey Smith, the narrator of this "true-life novel" by her granddaughter, Walls, lived in a dirt dugout in west Texas. Walls, whose mega-selling memoir, The Glass Castle, recalled her own upbringing, writes in what she recalls as Lily's plainspoken voice, whose recital provides plenty of drama and suspense as she ricochets from one challenge to another. Having been educated in fits and starts because of her parents' penury, Lily becomes a teacher at age 15 in a remote frontier town she reaches after a solo 28-day ride. Marriage to a bigamist almost saps her spirit, but later she weds a rancher with whom she shares two children and a strain of plucky resilience. (They sell bootleg liquor during Prohibition, hiding the bottles under a baby's crib.) Lily is a spirited heroine, fiercely outspoken against hypocrisy and prejudice, a rodeo rider and fearless breaker of horses, and a ruthless poker player. Assailed by flash floods, tornadoes and droughts, Lily never gets far from hardscrabble drudgery in several states—New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois—but hers is one of those heartwarming stories about indomitable women that will always find an audience
No one familiar with Walls's affecting memoir, The Glass Castle, will be surprised by her subtitle here: Walls is a careful observer who can give true-life stories the rush and immediacy of the best fiction. Here she novelizes the life of her grandmother, giving herself just the latitude she needs to create a great story. Lily Casey Smith is one astonishing woman, tough enough to trot her pony across several hundred miles of desert to her first job when she's only a teenager. After a brief stint in Chicago and marriage to a flim-flam man, she's back in the West, teaching again and eventually remarrying, helping her fine new husband at the gas station, raising her children, and running hooch if she must to make ends meet during the Depression. Her story is at once simple and utterly remarkable, for this is one remarkable woman—a half-broke horse herself who's clearly passed on her best traits to her granddaughter. Verdict: Told in a natural, offhand voice that is utterly enthralling, this is essential reading for anyone who loves good fiction—or any work about the American West. —Barbara Hoffert
After a fascinating memoir about her vagabond parents (The Glass Castle, 2005), Walls turns her sights on her maternal grandmother Lily Casey Smith, who died when Walls was eight. Because she uses a first-person narrative voice to capture Lily's scrappy voice and imaginatively fills in some of the missing details of Lily's life, Walls calls the work "A True-Life Novel," but it follows the straightforward linear pathof biography. Lily's father, whose speech impediment belies his native intelligence, is an eccentric who once spent three years in prison for murder, idolizes Billy the Kid and believes child's play is a waste of time. Lily's childhood on ranches in west Texas and New Mexico is an idyll filled with chores like breaking horses. She wins academic honors at the Catholic boarding school she attends until her father spends her tuition money to buy some dogs. A scrapper, Lily overcomes every setback. Although she has no high-school degree, during World War I's teacher shortage she temporarily lands the teaching jobs she loves. When the jobs evaporate, she moves to Chicago, where she marries a salesman who turns out to be a thieving bigamist, "a crumb bum" as Lily calls him. At 27, she starts college in Arizona where she meets and marries Jim Smith, whose no-nonsense smarts match Lily's. When money gets scarce, Lily, now a teacher and mother of two, supplements the family income by selling bootleg liquor. Jim lands a job managing a 100,000-acre cattle ranch and builds a dam that allows the ranch to survive a terrible drought. When the ranch is sold, the Smiths move to Phoenix, where they live in unaccustomed comfort. But city life does not suit them and they head back to rural Arizona. Lily's relationship with her equally headstrong but less practical daughter Rosemary—who grows up to be Wall's mother—becomes increasingly prickly. To the end Lily is one tough bird. Like her grandmother, Walls knows how to tell a story with love and grit.
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