#239 ~ Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Published on: October 2009

Page Count: 288

Genre: Historical Fiction / Imagined Memoir

Format: Hardcover purchased from Powell’s

Availability: Hardcover, audio book, and eBook

My Review

Lily Casey is a firecracker of a girl.  She is brave enough to keep her younger siblings safe during a flash flood, to face up to her parents’ weaknesses, and to take off on her horse by herself at the age of 15 for a multi-state journey to Arizona in order to begin a teaching career.  As a woman, she knows what she wants and she knows what is right.  She won’t back away from either.  She is flexible and won’t let life and it’s messy circumstances paralyze her.  Most of all, Lily Casey has a way with half broke horses.

I read The Glass Castle in 2007.  I absolutely loved it.  It’s the kind of memoir I find the most fulfilling to read.  The author experienced a difficult childhood.  Instead of being cynical and perpetually bruised, she finds her inner strength, takes responsibility for herself, and makes a great life for herself.  So, when I heard that Jeannette Walls wrote a novel, I knew I had to read it.  I wasn’t sure what to think about the “true life novel” aspect, but I didn’t let that stop me.  It did make me stumble a bit over defining its genre.  It is historical fiction as it takes place in the early 20th century.  That part was easy.  What was difficult is that I couldn’t really just leave it at historical fiction.  Half Broke Horses was written in the first person from the perspective of an actual woman, making it feel like a memoir.  Walls calls it a “true life novel.”  I settled with Historical Fiction / Imagined Memoir.

As with The Glass Castle, I loved Walls’ writing and her ability to bring the past to life.  Although she only knew her grandmother as a young child, the voice she gave to Lily Casey was authentic and powerful.  What touched me the most was the sense of place. I felt I grew to know the farmland of Texas and Arizona where Lily lived.  I see how it shaped her.  This novel is just as much a love letter to Walls’ grandmother as it is to horses, farming, and the American West.  It was interesting to read this along side of Mudbound. In Half Broke Horses, the love of the land was natural and life affirming whereas in Mudbound, it was destructive force.  Half Broke Horses made me long for a good deep, clean breath taken in wide open spaces while Mudbound made me feel dirty.  While I loved both Lily Casey and Laura McAllen as characters, I respected Lily more for the way that she took action when times got tough.  I very much admired her moxie and spirit.

I loved Half Broke Horses.  As, with any life, there wasn’t consistent action over the course of the novel, it worked better for me as a pre-cursor to The Glass Castle than it did as a straight out novel.  Knowing that Lily Casey was the author’s maternal grandmother before I began, I read this book from the beginning more as a family history than a novel anyway.  Anyone who has read and loved The Glass Castle would enjoy this.  If you haven’t read The Glass Castle and have wanted to, you could read them in either order.  I don’t think you could go wrong either way.  If you like to read about strong women who make the most out of their lives, you will love Lily Casey as much as I did.

Other Voices

Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books
A Novel Menagerie
Bibliophile by the Sea
Bookworm’s Dinner


  • At 2010.03.08 06:36, Marg said:

    I am not sure how I didn’t know that this book was out! Off to check the library catalogue!

    • At 2010.03.08 07:04, Meghan said:

      I’m definitely interested in this one! I too loved The Glass Castle. I should read it while Mudbound is fresh in my mind, given the comparisons you make.

      • At 2010.03.08 10:37, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

        I heard Jeanette Walls speak and she said Half Broke Horses is called a true-life novel because it’s the story of her grandmother, but told in the first person. Since her grandmother didn’t write it, it’s not a memoir, and since it’s a true story, it’s not really a novel. I’m so glad to see you loved it!

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        • At 2010.03.08 11:13, rhapsodyinbooks said:

          I haven’t read anything by Jeanette Walls and I suppose I should read this since, as you pointed out to me, it concerns Arizona, so one of these days if my TBR pile ever diminishes I may get to it!

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          • At 2010.03.08 11:50, softdrink said:

            I picked this up at the library this weekend, even though I have plenty of other books to read. I’m wondering how I’m going to fit it in!

            • At 2010.03.08 12:45, Jennifer said:

              Marg, I hope your library has it. I think you’d really enjoy it. It gives such a great flavor for the American West.

              Meghan, I really did compare the two women a lot while reading both books – one was audio and this was hardcover. My reading of them overlapped. I’ll be interested to see if you would, too.

              Bermudaonion, I would love to listen to her speak. What a treat. I can absolutely see why she had to write Half Broke Horses after learning all that she did.

              Rhapsody, you know where to go if you do decide you want to read it after you dig yourself out from under your TBR pile.

              Softdrink, it is a really quick read and is broken up into short chapters. You could also read this here and there. When you pick it back up, you’ll remember very easily where you were last time.

              • At 2010.03.08 14:43, Lisa said:

                I’ve often thought about writing about my own grandmother’s life. I’ll have to pick this up.

                • At 2010.03.08 18:03, Vasilly said:

                  Though I haven’t read Glass Castle, I love the way you describe it. I would describe Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club the same way. I’m going to Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses to my TBR list.

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                  • At 2010.03.08 23:43, Maddy said:

                    Its Maddy here. I tried to find a topic on a blog to respond to and I thought… Hmm… What type of blog should I look for? But then I was like Jeanette Walls (more like her books) and I ended up finding your blog. A few months ago I couldn’t find a book and my mom suggested the Half- Broken Horses. I fell in love with the character Lily Casey. Lily Casey a tough young woman and a pioneer perhaps, and she know what she wants and know what’s right.

                    The Glass Castle. I absolutely fell in love with the book and kept forgetting that the book was true story. Jeanette’s childhood was very horrid with many inappropriate events, parents that were mostly careless and didn’t want to do anything, and people disagreeing with the Wall’s family. One of the hugest disappointments I think for the Wall’s was what Rex made a promise that… he would make what he would like to call… ‘The Glass Castle.’ He kept telling or repeating his promise to the Wall children that he would build a Glass Castle which was supposingly a mansion made out of glass were the Walls would live. They did end up starting the project by making a base for ‘The Glass Castle’ and it ended up as the Walls garbage dump. Another one of the misfortunes. But Jeanette pulls through in the end and I believe she became a very strong person.

                    I did enjoy the Half –Broken Horses more than the Glass Castle because I feel I can relate more to the Half –Broken horses than the other book. Also the Half- Broken Horses is more positive than negative. I guess the book is more me.

                    I have to disagree with you. I think that you should read the Half- Broken Horses before the Glass Castle because… it makes more sense and you get introduced to more of the same or some of the characters in the Glass Castle.

                    Just by randomness… Did you see Jeanette Walls on the Craig Ferguson Show?

                    You’re Reader,

                    • At 2010.03.09 00:02, Jennifer said:

                      Lisa, you really should read this book. I think it will inspire you even more.

                      Vasilly, you won’t be disappointed. Jeannette Walls is such a good writer.

                      Maddy, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle. I’m glad you found me. Lily is a great character. I really did love her. The Glass Castle is definitely more difficult to read because it was so disappointing. I didn’t find it as sad, though, because it made Jeannette a stronger person. What I took away from that memoir was that you can have a crappy childhood and still become the person you want to be. I found that to be very inspiring.

                      I can see your point about reading HBH first. It does introduce you to Jeannette’s parents. I still think you can go either way, depending on your perspective.

                      I did not see her on Craig Ferguson, but I sure wish that I had!

                      • At 2010.03.10 17:04, Valerie said:

                        I think I have been avoiding both books by jeannette Walls because I feel that they might hit too close to home for me. I really need to read either or both books to find out! Maybe I’ll read this one first, since you liked it so much, and I trust your book likes/dislikes!

                        • At 2010.05.15 06:36, Care said:

                          Fantastic review! You said everything that I attempted to share. I, too, wrestled with the idea of needing to have read TGC before reading this one and like how you wrote it.

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