Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel
by Jeanette Walls


Scribner (Simon and Schuster), 2009. ISBN 978-1-416-58628-9.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 12/02/2010

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mainstream

Today much controversy and many conversations address the questions, "What is memoir?" and "What is fiction?" Maybe it boils down to "What is truth?" Jeanette Walls, author of the best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle, squarely takes on the issue in her author's note to this book. It is the story of her grandmother based on events that happened as Walls remembers them and as her mother recounted them to her. Lily, her grandmother, was real but Walls is the one actually telling this first-person story. She filled in some missing details of what she thinks might have happened, and she changed some names. And she doesn't call the story a memoir. "The only honest thing to do is call the book a novel." Walls calls it "a true-life novel."

Truth, fiction, or somewhere in between, Jeanette Walls spins a riveting story about an exceptional woman. From Lily's birth in 1901 when her dad had been out of prison only a year (Dad didn't do it; he was framed!) right through her life, Lily never stepped back from an adventure. Saving her younger brother and sister from a sudden and vicious windstorm, hopping on a pony and heading five-hundred miles west to teach school when she was but fifteen herself, catching the Chicago-bound train looking for a way out of a trapped life—not once did Lily step back. Not in her entire life, but I won't tell all; it's too much fun to learn it in the book.

One point I will share. Lilly always took care of the ones she loved from siblings to spouses to kids, but Lilly also took care of Lilly. One example (out of many) shows that she wanted a college degree. In spite of years and daunting obstacles, she got it and more.

It's no wonder the New York Times chose Half Broke Horses as one of the ten best books of 2009 and it is a bestseller. I've helped make it so. I've just ordered my third copy. The first went to a traveling companion who, seeing me finish it mid-flight, commandeered it. She couldn't wait to land to pick up her own copy. My daughter claimed my present volume, leading her sister-in-law to say, "How about me?" Hence the current book. I want one for myself! Maybe I should order yet another just in case. It's a great story. Plus, I learned to geld a horse.


Jeanette Walls worked as a New York City journalist for over twenty years. Her memoir of growing up in an unforgettable family, The Glass Castle, continues on the bestseller list. It has been translated into twenty-three languages. Walls is married to writer John Taylor. Like her grandmother Lily, she loves horses. You can learn more about her and her books on her publisher's website.

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