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

2 ratings (2 Epinions reviews)
Share This!
  Ask friends for feedback

The Legend of Lily Casey Smith

Jul 20, 2010
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fascinating story with a shrewd and tough narrator.

Cons:The reader should probably take it with a few grains of salt.

The Bottom Line: The factual accuracy might be questionable, but it's still an enjoyable story.


Half Broke Horses is the story of Jeanette Walls' maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who grew up on a ranch in Texas.  The title refers to incompletely trained horses that "would just barely accept a saddle."  According to the book, such horses tend to be tough and intelligent, though.  Walls also sometimes use the phrase to describe people who are rough around the edges.
 
Walls describes her book as a "true life novel."  Her subject died when Walls was eight, so Walls herself has only a few memories of her.  She did, however, grow up hearing stories about Lily Smith from her mother.  In other words, Walls based a lot of her book on oral history, and she admits as much.  In her author's note at the end, Wells describes her book as a "retelling of stories handed down by my family."  To her credit, Walls does find and use books to try to verify some of the family's stories--only to find they sometimes contradicted said stories.    Given that, the reader might want to take Half Broke Horses with a few grains of salt.
 
Lily Casey Smith was born in 1901 and was the eldest of three children.  At that time, the West was still quite Wild.  Lily was born in a dugout, a big hole dug in the side of a riverbank.  Dugouts were common back then, because there were virtually no trees.  At least,  there weren't enough trees to be used for building log cabins.  (One of their neighbors did have a log cabin, and he had to have the timber imported all the way from New Mexico.)
 
Between a disabled father and an impractical mother, Lily had to grow up fast.  She was helping her father train horses when she was six years old.  She also tutored her younger siblings.  (Her father homeschooled her until she was thirteen, and then sent her to a Catholic boarding school.)  Lily became an itinerant teacher when she was fifteen and taught at a number of small frontier towns until the end of World War I.  After World War I, Lily decided to try life in the big city and went to Chicago-- only to discover that nobody there would hire a teacher who didn't have a high school diploma, experienced or otherwise.  She therefore divided her time between working as a maid and going to high school.

The book covers roughly half a century, as it starts when the nine-year-old Lily and her siblings survive a flood and ends with the birth of her granddaughter, Jeannette.  Lily herself is the narrator, as Walls hoped to  "capture her voice."  Frankly, I find this more questionable than the "true life novel" business, since Lily died when Walls was still very young.  Walls claims to remember Lily's voice and manner of talking, but I wonder.   Some of the expressions Walls uses, like "crumb bum," sometimes sound a bit forced, but she does succeed in portraying her grandmother as a tough, hard-headed, independent woman who had little patience for conventional attitudes.  Her stint as a maid had soured her on housework, so she did as little of that as possible.  She went to college and even learned to fly a plane, in a time and place where women did not do either.

To her credit, Walls does not shy away from the fact that Lily made mistakes.  During her stay in Chicago, she married a salesman-- only to discover he was a con artist married to another woman.  She had an assertive and confrontational personality and did not suffer fools or sexists gladly-- and this  attitude led to her getting fired a number of times.  Her relationship with her daughter Rosemary could best be described as "difficult."  Given her temperament, Lily was probably not an easy person to live or work with, but she is certainly an interesting one to read about.


Recommend this product? Yes


Share this product review with your friends   
Share This!


Related Deals You Might Like...

Broke Shirt

Broke Shirt

Funny Broke Credit Card Parody T-Shirt, Broke Credit Card Shirt, funny broke t-shirt, broke visa t-shirt, silly broke mastercard shirt, broke logo shi...
PlanetaryBargains

$21.99

+$5.99 shipping
Barely Broke Intellects The Hustle Like You Broke Baseball Tee in White and Black

Barely Broke Intellects The Hustle Like You Broke Baseball Tee in White and Black

Barely Broke Intellects The Hustle Like You Broke Baseball Tee in White and Black. The Barely Broke Intellects Hustle Like You Broke Baseball Tee in W...
Karmaloop

$60.00

+$6.00 shipping
Dish By Walls, Jeannette

Dish By Walls, Jeannette

Harpercollins 9780380810451 Dish By Walls, Jeannette Description A former correspondent for E! Television and New York
eBay

$17.01

FREE Shipping
CafePress I Broke the Internet White T-Shirt

CafePress I Broke the Internet White T-Shirt

100% preshrunk cotton6.1 ozCrew NecklineStandard FitMachine Wash Cold
CafePress.com

$19.99

+$6.49 shipping
Goin' Broke Men's T Shirt

Goin' Broke Men's T Shirt

Up for auction is this comical men's t shirt that says: Goin'Broke!..... sporting a man pulling out his pockets that are empty.The backside is a logo ...
eBay

$19.99

FREE Shipping
CafePress Broke in 600 Years! Infant Bodysuit

CafePress Broke in 600 Years! Infant Bodysuit

Infant Bodysuit100% soft ringspun cotton jersey, heather grey is 97/3 cotton-poly blend3 snap closure for easy diaper changesLap sleeve neckline for e...
Cafepress.com

$22.00

+$6.49 shipping
Trendy But Broke: Junior Fit Bella Bandeau Top

Trendy But Broke: Junior Fit Bella Bandeau Top

Broke? Student? Sucks. Can't buy expensive couture but you CAN design your own and poke some fun at those ridiculous price tags. It's all about having...
Customized Girl

$22.97

FREE Shipping
Barely Broke Intellects The Diamond Floral Tee in White

Barely Broke Intellects The Diamond Floral Tee in White

Barely Broke Intellects The Diamond Floral Tee in White. The Barely Broke Intellects Diamond Floral Tee in White Dress up the Diamond Floral Tee with ...
Karmaloop

$36.00

+$6.00 shipping
Volcom Broke En Tank Top Women's Sleeveless Size MD

Volcom Broke En Tank Top Women's Sleeveless Size MD

Keep it casual in this comfortable Volcom Broke En Tank Top. Relaxed fit. Soft pigment-dyed cotton. Round neckline. Sleeveless design. Baselayer not i...
Zappos.com

$29.50

FREE Shipping
Girl's Young, Fabulous & Broke 'Racer' Ombre Tank, Size 10 - Blue

Girl's Young, Fabulous & Broke 'Racer' Ombre Tank, Size 10 - Blue

A wave of cool blues washes down a racerback tank detailed with a mini chest pocket. Color(s): blue. Brand: YOUNG FABULOUS &BROKE. Style Name: Young, ...
Nordstrom

$30.82

FREE Shipping