Based on the true story of the life of Jeanette Walls’ grandmother, Half-broke Horses is the endearing tale of Lily Casey Smith, a woman born into poverty in the early 1900s frontier of west Texas. Intelligent, despite her spotted 8th grade education, Smith knows her purpose on earth is more than just breaking-in horses on her daddy’s farm and she sets off across the desert at age 15 to teach children in Arizona. Smith is scrappy and independent, clearly a woman before her time. In her early 20s when she learns that the traveling salesman she married actually already has a wife and kids, she puts her six-shooter revolver with the pearl handle in her purse and hits him with it, giving him a good “pistol-whippin’”.
Walls, the best-selling author of her own memoir The Glass Castle, tells her grandmother’s story in a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense way probably much in same way as her grandmother shared these stories with her. It can be shocking that Smith speaks of her best friend’s death in the same tone as she does of, say, playing a hand of poker, but it’s realistic a snapshot of the era. In her narration, Walls’ accent is a bit mottled a little southern, with hints of other dialects thrown in which can be distracting at times, but it also suits Smith, a girl from west Texas who had an Irish father with a speech impediment.
Smith does find true happiness with her second husband and eventually settles down (if you can call selling whiskey during Prohibition by hiding it under her baby’s crib “settling down”). But this heroine’s adventures racing horses, surviving flash floods and tornadoes, and playing poker will stick with you long after Walls has finished describing them. Colleen Oakley
"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls's no nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At 15, she left home to teach in a frontier town - riding 500 miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane. And, with her husband Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.
Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit.
Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix audiences everywhere.
©2009 Jeanette Walls; (P)2009 Simon & Schuster
"Lily Casey Smith is one astonishing woman...a half-broke horse herself who's clearly passed on her best traits to her granddaughter. Told in a natural, offhand voice that is utterly enthralling, this is essential reading for anyone who loves good fiction." (Library Journal)
I couldn't stop listening. Loved the story over a woman's whole interesting life. Also like that it was the mother of the crazy mom in Glass Castles. Liked hearing some of her childhood also.
This is very much worth a listen. I recently finished "Glass Castle" and wanted more. Although not an immediate tie in with GC, this story seems to easily relate to GC since you know you are finding out about Wall's grandmother - and the prime influence on her mother. Helps to make sense out of GC if that is of interest to you. If not, it is still an interesting story of a tough and self-reliant woman making a go of it in the early 1900's in Arizona and New Mexico.
Jeannette Walls has captured the voice of her grandmother through this excellent novelization of her family history. An inspiring story for men and women alike. Less horrific than her first book (Glass Castle) but equally as engaging. In fact, if you have not read The Glass Castle-- read this first.
This book gave some background that was very helpful in understanding Ms. Walls unconventional upbringing. (The Glass Castle) Ms. Walls mother had been very influenced by the hard scrabble life of the American west and her family's need to survive. It was not comfortable nor safe. In giving us the story of her grandparents, her own mother's life and choices became more understandable. Jeanette Walls certainly channeled her grandmother's grit to become a respected author. Good for her.
This book makes me want to write my grandmothers history - and someday my own. It took me a bit to get into it but then I found myself unable to stop. I listened to it and I love the authors performance of her grandmother's voice.
I'm just a southern woman who wandered into southeast Alaska...
This story did not grab me like TGC did, not even close honestly. It didn't appeal to me, and I could in no way relate to the main character. I was hoping to love this and just didn't. I can appreciate the story, but I'm disappointed in its lack of ability to grab my heart like her previous novel did. It evoked no emotion from me at all, as a matter of fact. I thought it wouldn't end, and that's just not what you want in a book.
Listening to the granddaughter (and author) of the main character read this (historically based) novel lent an authenticity to the story that I did not anticipate. I could hear Lily speaking! Extraordinary life during a bygone era.
Read my first novel at 7, Are you there God....I was hooked, the next book was Of Mice and Men big jump, I was told I couldn't read it....
Jeanette Walls's writing and performance in this audio book keeps your attention, grabs your heart and creates an emotional connection to the characters. Having just finished Glass Castle I wanted to continue the connection and Half Broke Horses was successful in doing so. Although a different story, different perspective, the rhythm was the same and writing smooth. Highly recommended.
Report Inappropriate Content