Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls’s “true-life” novel based on the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, is called “Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults” on the flap copy. For someone who loved reading Little House on the Prairie, I can say that what Walls accomplishes in this work is so much more than a new take on that classic.
By channeling her grandmother’s spirit, Walls offers a full portrait of this one-of-a-kind woman. Lily’s history helps us understand how Walls herself, who was a great deal like her grandmother, became similarly resilient and driven. Written with an authentic and stark voice, Lily jumps off the page and into our hearts. Photos throughout the book help us believe that the voice we hear as we read is hers.
As the pragmatic and immensely modern Lily takes us through the eras of her life, from growing up on a farm to living in Chicago to teaching on the frontier, readers witness the great injustice she suffers—frequently because of her sex—and find themselves in awe of her resilience. When we expect her to give up, she perseveres and continues to charm us with her sass and humor.
Lily’s father tells her, “God deals us all different hands. How we play ’em is up to us.” This greatly sets the bar for Lily’s achievements. Growing up in such a volatile region and during a time when women were not given the same freedom we have today, Lily beats the odds and serves as an inspiration to all girls—the early twentieth century’s answer to Lean In. Half Broke Horses will transport you to an era filled with unforgettable characters and gorgeous landscapes, and leave you wanting more.
This summer, I read Walls’s 2013 novel, The Silver Star, and immediately after that I read her bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle. In many ways, I think I may have saved her best work for last, and I would recommend that if you read one book by her . . .well, you will definitely want to—and should—read them all.