By Jeannette Walls
Age Level: 15+
Subjects: Alcoholism, family, homelessness, children in poverty
Reader’s Annotation: Growing up, Jeannette Walls and her siblings survive malnutrition, beatings, and dilapidated shelters before they escape poverty and alcoholism to forge their own way in the world.
Summary: Rex and Rose Mary Walls are too intelligent for their own good since their philosophies and convictions lead them to live a life of poverty by choice. Raising four children in the deserts of California and Nevada, neither parent is capable of holding a steady job. Lori, Jeannette, Brian and Maureen learn to scavenge for food and protect each other from all manner of threats. Jeannette thinks they may finally have a home when her mother inherits a house in Phoenix, but before long Rex’s alcoholism and Rose Mary’s depression force the family to move to Welch, West Virginia where Rex was raised. In Welch, the Walls children grow into teenagers with a common goal—getting out. Working on the school newspaper, Jeannette discovers her talent for journalism and, together with her siblings, begins to dream of moving to New York City. But first they must all reconcile the need to sever ties with their parents.
Notes: Walls recounts her horrifying experiences without self-pity, revealing her own inner strength and the resilience of the human spirit. Her depiction of the rural poverty throughout the United States is eye-opening. Content to be aware of—strong language, sexual abuse.
With the 2010 Winter Olympics and Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite love stories—that of champion pairs skaters Katia Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.
I was still in high school when “G&G” were at the height of their career and I remember vividly the shock and sadness I felt upon hearing the news of Grinkov’s untimely death.
In the opening chapter of the book, which was first published in 1996, Gordeeva says she’s “writing this memoir now, before [Grinkov’s] lovely echo fades, as it inevitably will, with time.” Gordeeva and Grinkov’s skating career, from their initial pairing and first competitions through their second Olympic gold medal, is chronicled with great attention to details such as costumes, music selection, and choreography. Gordeeva discusses their intense training under the Soviet sports regime and their evolution as athletes and performers. Integral to their growth as skaters is their private journey from young co-workers to lovers to husband and wife to parents. When Grinkov died in November 1995, Gordeeva lost her husband and partner, and the father of her three-year-old daughter, rendering a heart-breaking conclusion to love story that should have had a happily ever after.
Of course figure skating fans will enjoy Gordeeva’s perspective on the sport, but for other readers, this is a timeless romance. The simple language used throughout (Gordeeva spoke little English at the time that this book was written), combined with Gordeeva’s candidness, gives the book an innocent quality.
Truly a bittersweet story.