Half Broke Horses
A True-Life Novel
by Jeannette Walls
October 2009, 272 p.
Walls is shaping up to be one of this decades most fascinating storytellers. The adventures of her family in The Glass Castle were mesmerizing and truly an unforgettable read. With a pen that glows with brilliance, her writing in Half Broke Horses is bedazzling. In her words, this is the true life novel of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith who died when she was eight. Half Broke Horses portrays her grandmother’s life told through all of the many stories she heard as a child.
The novel is told in first person from the point of view of her grandmother. The opening chapter begins, “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” However, no matter what trouble faced Lily Casey Smith, she would have the intelligence, the determination, the answers and always the faith in herself that she would survive.
As the story opens, faced with the onslaught of a flash-flood, Lily has presence of mind to gather her two siblings together and hoists them into a cottonwood tree, where they hang on precariously during a harrowing overnight until the morning. Lily is ten and when her mother sees her three children coming home the following morning, she praises the Lord, the guardian angels and her constant prayer for saving the three.
Lily is perturbed and says to her dad, “There weren’t no guardian angel, Dad.” She knows their survival had nothing to do with prayer and she is quick to explain it was her vigilant fight to save her brother and sister that kept them alive. Lily is a realist, and she believes there was no guardian Angel up in that tree. It was Lily Casey Smith, one tough kid, who was up in the tree making the right decisions.
One other time early in the book, Walls relates a story about her grandmother, when she was fifteen and accepts a job as a teacher. Lily has no degree in teaching, but has enough education to satisfy the school district’s needs. The town is over five hundred miles away, but Lily needs a job. Lily must make the journey on her horse Patches to Red Lake, Arizona, by herself and so she sets out on her trip with a fearless, spunky spirit of adventure.
Walls novel is a touching honest portrait of an idiosyncratically warm and loving grandmother, mother and wife who was raised on the wild side of nature. She was in my opinion “a hoot”. You will love this woman and come to understand that there is absolutely nothing in life that could stand in her way when she sets her mind to it.
Half Broke Horses is an inspirational memoir, and true life-novel that will make you chuckle, weep and simply savor like a warm cup of tea. The greatest challenge in this book I found was not being able to put it down. With my predilection for Jeannette Walls’ writing I eagerly anticipate future releases as my cup of tea is getting cold.