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
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.