The Glass Castle–A Book Review by Hannah

HannahThis review is written by our 19-year-old daughter, homeschool graduate, freelance writer, and literature lover, Hannah.

Hannah’s Disclaimer: I received The Glass Castle by Trisha White Priebe and Jerry B. Jenkins from Shiloh Run Press for free in exchange for an honest review. I am older than the target audience and thus I view the characters and plotline from a somewhat maturer prospective.

Also, The Glass Castle isn’t usually the type of book I prefer to read. The writing style, while it is not technically flawed, is not my preferred style. Readers with differing opinions in reading material may find the book more or less enjoyable than I did. I have old-fashioned taste in novels and seldom appreciate recently-written books to their full potential.

The Glass Castle–A Review

By Hannah Bagasao

Exceeding Expectations

“The setting from The Chronicles of Narnia meets the action from Alice and Wonderland…” says the product description I received along with the book. When a new book is self-ranked among two of the greatest children’s books known to humankind, you can’t help but dive into it with soaring expectations. Unfortunately, The Glass Castle’s authors didn’t quite succeed in filling the extra-large-size shoes set before them.

The description leads readers to start the story in the mindset of one of these classic novels, expecting another masterpiece likes those of C. S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll. When such a masterpiece is not provided, the reader will be more disappointed in the novel that failed to live up to its description than he might have been in the same book with little or no expectations.

Having seen my share of books that claim to be the next “great American novel” only to fall flat in the end, I wasn’t quite convinced by The Glass Castle’s claims. I went into it with few expectations, only to find myself a bit pleasantly surprised.

The Glass Castle {Shiloh Run Press Review}

The Story (Sans Spoilers)

From its apprehensive opening paragraph to its unfulfilled cliffhanger forty-one chapters later, The Glass Castle is abounding with adventure and suspense. The story centers around a community of young people—all coincidentally orphans, all coincidentally thirteen years old—who are trapped in a castle for their own safety, under the very nose, it seems, of the person from whom they are hiding. A king’s failing health, the death of his first wife and strange disappearance of his firstborn son thirteen years ago, his new queen’s mysterious intrigue—somehow this all adds up to explain why the teens are where they are. A few cryptic remarks about younger siblings being held hostage as leverage and a price on the head of every thirteen-year-old orphan in the kingdom, along with occasional threats of the inscrutable Forbidden City, are enough to keep the children inside the castle day and night. They dare not so much as glance out a window for fear, apparently, of being seen.

The young refugees (or are they captives?) follow their orders to a T, and keep the castle running with a smoothness and efficiency that you wouldn’t expect from teenagers. That is, save one.

Meet Avery, the newest addition to the thirteen-year-old community, and the protagonist of the story. She is more determined than anyone to escape and reunite with her little brother, Henry. At least, in the beginning she is. A good deal of the story revolves around Avery’s unquenchable curiosity—curiosity about the castle, about the king, about the the supposed secrets he is keeping which, if exposed, may leave his crown and his line hanging in the balance, and about the beautiful but dangerous young queen who seems to know far too much.

The Writing

The writing style of this book was clear and concise without being dumbed down. Although the target audience is between ages ten and fifteen, the style itself could appeal to almost all ages. Slightly younger children will probably be able to read through it without a dictionary at hand, while adults and older teens will find it an easy but enjoyable read.

While the description and writing style deserve praise for clarity, some of the conversations between characters felt rather awkward at times, somewhat unreal. There’s a bit of purple prose intermingled with their undeniably twenty-first-century speech.

The Thing About Suspense and Too Many Secrets

With a new mystery around every corner and another secret on every other page, the story was suspenseful enough to keep me interested—as a matter of fact, I found myself hooked on it late into the night. At times, I did feel as though the story proceeded too quickly. As it was generally portrayed from Avery’s third-person point of view, the story keeps in pace with the multi-track and distracted mind of a girl who seems to have so much to think about that she can’t seem to focus.

While the book held my interest fairly well, I wasn’t a quarter of the way through before I began to feel a trifle overwhelmed. Secrecy was everywhere. The castle abounded with secrets, and pretty much everyone residing in the castle had a terrible knack for keeping them as well. Lines such as “She isn’t ready to know the truth yet,” and “Someday I’ll tell you, but not yet,” were a little too frequent. It felt as though most of the secrets being kept were solely for the sake of secrecy, and most of the secrets were never revealed in the end. It almost brought a smile to my face when Avery finally confronted one of these secretive teens and said something around the lines of, “stop trying to protect me and just tell me what’s going on.” Of course, it was that same Avery who earlier told another character “I won’t tell you what I know unless you tell me what you know,”

Well, our lives might be in the balance, Avery, but if you want to be petty…

The Characters

The main character, Avery, was not as endearing as a protagonist should have been. I cannot speak for the target audience, who are nearer to Avery in age and may be able to relate to her, but as an adult reader I found myself continually frustrated with her as she consistently disregarded rules and reason—even risking the lives of her family and friends—for her own spontaneous whims. The worst part was that she did this regularly and was never victim to any consequences (two unfortunate strangers did meet their demise partway through the novel, however, as a result of her reckless actions).

Avery was often rude, easily annoyed, and seemed to be unreasonable at times, jumping to unrealistic conclusions on the spur of the moment. Her pride was another issue; in spite of being the newest arrival, she seemed under the actual impression that escaping the castle rested solely on her shoulders and that none of the other children knew anything about their situation. On a positive note, I found Avery’s devotion to her three-year-old brother touching and refreshing, especially in today’s media portrayals of impatient teenagers scarcely tolerating the existence of their little siblings. I appreciated her love of reading, too.

Character-wise, there were a few stereotypes that had me wondering, at one point or another, whether I was reading a fantasy novel or a teen’s high-school memoirs. Three characters in particular fit the typical description for high-school stock characters. Avery, the “new girl in school,” didn’t really fit in around the others at first, but she was made relatively popular by some unexpected combined with her becoming the male lead’s love interest.

Tuck was the typical male teenage lead: tall, broad-shouldered, and charismatic, with “captivating” eyes and, of course, a surprising talent for poetry.

Ilsa was the “queen bee” who immediately ordered Avery to “stay away from Tuck,” (the usual high school situation, in which the lead female’s romantic interest was once involved with her diva-of-an-arch-nemesis). Afterwards, she targeted and despised Avery for no reason at all other than to add a bit of forced drama to the character relationships.

When Kendrick, one of the main characters as mentioned in the description, is first mentioned by name, he gives every indication of being the typical nerd: wiry, glasses, intelligent. Fortunately, he improved significantly and I considered him, along with Kate, to be one of the more interesting characters in the story. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding both of them separately—they each have a past that I think might be revealed eventually, and both seem to know a little more than they let on—and personally I’m rather curious to see how their lives pan out.

Objectionable (or Non-Objectionable) Content

As far as content is concerned, there is no foul language or gore. The deaths of a few characters are mentioned in passing, and younger or more sensitive readers may be disturbed when a boy is found poisoned to death with blood streaming from his ears and nose.

Romance seems to be a heavy subplot in the story, but there is nothing that could be considered inappropriate or disturbing (unless you’re like me, and you think the idea of thirteen-year-olds proposing marriage to one-another is disturbing). One boy kisses a girl on the cheek, and the story contains plenty of teenage crushes with the usual drama, a marriage proposal or two between thirteen-year-olds (which felt rather awkward to read), and the wedding of the king and queen. There is no foul language whatsoever. I appreciated the fact that the content was purely—or at least mostly—wholesome.

A Christian Book

Supposedly this is a Christian book. The characters prayed, read the Bible and referenced it at times, and even attended chapel (conducted by a nameless freckled boy acting as chaplain—one of my favorite characters in spite of his limited appearances). I did like the fact that a community of teenagers actually took it upon themselves to hold church services in their captivity.

It really didn’t seem as though the Christian values which these characters had really had much to do with the plotline. A genuinely well-written piece of Christian fiction must manage to tie Christianity into the plot itself, but I didn’t really feel that The Glass Castle accomplished that. The Christian values seemed almost forced, as though the writers forgot that they were writing a Christian book and had to thrust the values in wherever there was room. I don’t think religion was even mentioned until almost the one-hundredth page.

It Is the First in a Series

My greatest criticism regarding this book is the abrupt ending. It’s what some might call a cliffhanger, but be warned; this is a precipice like you’ve never seen. When I reached what turned out to be the last page, I turned it, expecting a “chapter forty-two.” But the book simply ended right there, as though it had been chopped in two down the center and the second half had gone missing. I feel that any book, even one ending with suspense, should leave you with a sense of closure, but I didn’t have a speck of closure—only questions.

I’m aware that this book is the first in a series, but I feel that it should have been capable of standing alone until the sequel was released. If this was for marketing reasons, it was definitely successful. I’m pretty sure I’ll be purchasing the second book in the series and probably every book after that, if only to relieve my nagging curiosity.

With that in mind, I have a note to parents of the intended age range: do be warned! The Glass Castle is only the first in a series of books, and the others have yet to be released. If your child becomes hooked (which is inevitable, considering the cliffhanger at its end) you may find yourself purchasing sequel after sequel the instant they hit the shelves.

Summary and Recommendations

To sum it up, I would say that this book is an enjoyable read for all ages, but it obviously would appeal most to readers within the intended age range. Unlike me, children within that range may be able to relate to the characters, and are less likely to be bothered by stereotypes, awkward conversational style, character flaws, and the main focus of the story bouncing around with more vigor than a pogo stick. Adults are more likely to notice these shortcomings. I would recommend this book to any child between the ages of ten and fifteen with a keenness for adventure, fantasy, and suspense. I might even recommend it to an adult looking for a easy-to-read, clean Christian series to pass the time.

I received this book for free in exchange for this review, and I doubt I would have given it a second glance on a bookstore shelf otherwise. But in defense of the book, I have old-fashioned taste in novels, and I barely give a second glance to anything written after the twenty-first century. On the rare occasion that I happen to pick up such a book, I instinctively tend to compare it to my old favorites—the works of Sir Walter Scott and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, G. K. Chesterton and Alfred Tennyson—authors to whom none can compare. All in all, I do not regret reading The Glass Castle. I enjoyed it, and I look forward to the release of the sequel.  

A note from Christy: based on Hannah’s review, and the fact that she’s going to want the rest of the series anyway, we are giving this book to Elijah (age 10) to read, since he is in the recommended age group of 10-14.

You can preview the first several chapters here.

Read what other members of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew think about The Glass Castle by clicking the banner below:

The Glass Castle {Shiloh Run Press Review}

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