Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Main character: Lily Casey Smith
Location: American Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona)
Time period: 1st half of the 20th century
Genre: Fiction, Family story

When I recently changed jobs from Children's/YA librarian to cataloger, I did think that a potential danger was losing touch with all the great books that I was buying for the library. Little did I know that the greater danger was seeing all the books as they left the cataloging department to go out on the shelves. I now have a list of books I want to read, and it is growing daily.

One of the first books that a fellow cataloger recommended to me was Half Broke Horses. The author based this book on her grandmother's life and it was a doozy of a life. It starts with 10-year-old Lily checking on the cows with her little brother and sister when a flash flood comes barrelling toward them. They make it to a cottonwood tree just in time, and then spend the night in the tree, returning home in the morning when the waters recede.

Lily was born with the new century, in 1900, and spent her early life in west Texas. Her father trained carriage horses, and Lily became quite a good trainer herself. Her early education was at home, but eventually she was sent off to a boarding school which she loved--until her father spent her tuition money on a pair of purebred dogs that he planned to breed and sell. Bitterly disappointed, she left school but could not settle in back at home. By this time, World War I had taken most young men away from their factory jobs and women were moving into the manufacturing workforce. This left a shortage of teachers, especially in the small, remote areas. So Lily became a teacher--and a good one, despite being only 17 and with not even an 8th grade education.

As I read this book, I was reminded of my own grandmothers--women from the same generation as Lily, who lived through the Depression and two World Wars. Though they were from different parts of the country, they had a similar toughness and self-reliance. I am now going to have to seek out Jeanette Walls' first book, The Glass Castle, which tells the story of the author's mother, Lily's daughter.

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