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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle was "nothing short of spectacular" (Entertainment Weekly). Now, in Half Broke Horses, she brings us the story of her grandmother, told in a first-person voice that is authentic, irresistible, and triumphant.

"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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Kathryn
  • Pearblossom, CA, United States
  • 01-10-10


This book was quite enjoyable, especially if you like memoirs or ranch life. It is a gritty and realistic story, with foreshadowing for "The Glass Castle." I wish I had been able to read this book first. The protagonist is self-sufficient, resilient and competent against all odds. It is a pleasure to read a book about a successful woman, without a political agenda taking it over.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Wendy
  • Overland Park, KS, USA
  • 12-21-09

Poor Recording

This might be a good story, but I was very distracted by the poor narration. The Narrator talks too fast, and sounds like she has marbles in her mouth. Very disappointing.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jody
  • Lewiston, ID, USA
  • 12-13-09

Good story about a fascinating character

This story is inspiring, and well-written, about a strong, independent woman who had a very interesting life. I wish I had bought the book to read instead of the audio version, though, because I did not enjoy the author's narration of her own work. She claims to have found her "grandmother's voice", but her too-perfect diction just didn't sound like a woman from Texas to me. However, I was able to enjoy the story on its own merits. It was almost as good as her previous work, "The Glass Castle".

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

What a miserable story

What did you like about this audiobook?

I had to stop listening to ths story - after the failed attempt to raise great dane dogs I just couldn't listen any more - too depressing.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Julie
  • Mundelein, IL, United States
  • 07-29-10

Ok, but slow

I found this book to be ok, but in was disappointed because I loved the glass castle and this was rather slow and a bit dull.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not nearly as good

I looked forward to listening to this book but was sadly, disappointed. I found very little to like in the main character and for this reason had a difficult time finishing the story. With Jeannette Walls' next book, I'll save the credit and take it out of the library.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Loved Ms. Walls Memoir So Much More

This book was an interesting read (or listen) because of the fortitude of the main character. It was also historically interesting, in terms of the dynamic of the TX, AZ and NM land over the last century or so. I just couldn't help to compare it to the real, heart-wrenching story of the author and her own memoirs. They were so real, so sad, and so loving. I yearned for more detail about Jeanette's mother, Rosemary, and an explanation of how her childhood formulated her into the kind of drifting mother she was. I never quite found it. Also, would have really enjoyed another narrator. Ms. Walls read more with factually than perhaps someone who was reading the text to whom it was more novel.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tracey
  • Chicago, IL, United States
  • 10-15-09

Every Bit As Good As The Glass Castle

I loved Jeanette's voice in telling this tale and am so delighted she chose to do it herself. That twangy and fiesty tone really set the pace to portray her dear old Grandma.

This book is every bit as good as The Glass Castle and is written so well, with such insight and detail and feeling, I, at times, felt as though I were right there at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea and a chat with the family as Lily waves her choppers around to show them off.

Jeanette, I really love your writing and truely admire how you turned your life around and became the successful writer you are today. It's all very amazing and profoundly inspiring.

18 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

wanted to like it

The story was somewhat interesting. But I found myself waiting for it to end so I could get to my next book, all-the while, hoping it would get better. One of the biggest problems was the narration. She sounded like a high school kid reading her report to her class, Boring! She made a book that could have had some potential into a frustrating listen. She should leave the narration to the pros and stick to writing.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Mildly entertaining

This is a period story that takes place at the turn of the century. I enjoy history so some of the descriptions of life during this time were appealing. Overall though the narrative is very average and a little over done. I kept waiting for something to happen but this is a pretty simple story about life. If your wanting to be enthralled don't buy this book.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful