Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle has long been celebrated as one of the best of the genre since it was published in 2006. And with the big screen adaptation hitting theaters on August 11, more people than ever are finding their way to her story. For those uninitiated, The Glass Castle is a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant.
When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family. The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and they eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.
If you loved The Glass Castle and are looking for more incredible family memoirs written by women to dive into after reading the book and watching the film, the 11 picks below definitely fit the bill. From dysfunctional families to drama-filled mother-daughter relationships, all of the memoirs below delve into some of the best and worst of family life.
'Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To' by Annabelle Gurwitch
When Annabelle Gurwitch was a child, she was surrounded by a cast of epically dysfunctional relatives, and she secretly prayed that it was all a terrible mistake. A family of bootleggers, gamblers, and philanderers, the Gurwitches have always been a bit vague on the standard ideal of a loving and supportive family. One day, unfortunately, Gurwitch woke up to realize that she'd made similar, if not the same, mistakes as everyone else before her. Wherever she went, there they were. Gurwitch explores the inescapable realities of life with her relatives and her southern Jewish roots, as well as her flirtation with surrogate families.
'Priestdaddy: A Memoir' by Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood's childhood was unusual in many respects. She lived in an impoverished, nuclear waste-riddled area of the American Midwest. Her mother spoke almost entirely in strange koans and warnings of impending danger. And her gun-toting, guitar-riffing, frequently semi-naked father underwent a religious conversion on a submarine and discovered a loophole which saw him approved for the Catholic priesthood, despite already having a wife and children. When 30-year-old Patricia is forced to move back in with her parents, husband in tow, she must learn to live again with her family's madness, and reckon with the dark side of a childhood spent in the bosom of the Catholic Church.
'The Liars' Club' by Mary Karr
When it was first published 20 years ago, The Liars’ Club took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Karr’s comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us darkly hilarious characters—a hard-drinking daddy, a sister who can talk down the sheriff at age 12, and an oft-married mother whose accumulated secrets threaten to destroy them all. This is the unsentimental and profoundly moving account of an apocalyptic childhood.
'With Or Without You' by Domenica Ruta
Domenica Ruta grew up in a ramshackle, rundown, trash-filled house with her mother, a drug dealer and user who raised Domenica on a steady diet of Oxycontin. Growing up, Domenica knew she didn't fit in, but she found solace in writing and reading. As she grew older, though, and as her mother's behavior grew increasingly outrageous and her home life increasingly untenable, Domenica fled Danvers only to become ensnared by the demons of addiction. Layered with wildly colorful characters, a biting sense of humor, and penetrating insights, With or Without You is a book about survival.
'Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir' by Jenny Lawson
When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us the people we are today.
'I'm Supposed To Protect You From All This: A Memoir' by Nadja Spiegelman
For a long time, Nadja Spiegelman believed her mother was a fairy. More than her famous father, Maus creator Art Spiegelman, and even more than most mothers, hers—French-born New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly—exerted a force over reality that was both dazzling and daunting. Then, after college, her mother suddenly opened up to her. Françoise recounted her turbulent adolescence caught between a volatile mother and a playboy father. At about the same age, Nadja made the journey in reverse, moving to Paris determined to get to know the woman her mother had fled. Her grandmother’s memories contradicted her mother’s at nearly every turn, but beneath them lay a difficult history of her own.
'Ordinary Light' by Tracy K. Smith
Ordinary Light is a moving memoir that explores coming-of-age against a complex backdrop of race and faith. King was brought up in a family of five children raised with affection and faith. But after spending a summer in Alabama with her grandmother, she returns with a new sense of what it means for her to be black: from her mother's memories of picking cotton as a girl, to her parents' involvement in the Civil Rights movement. These juxtapositions between her family's past and her future compel her to act on her desire to become a writer. But when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, King must learn a new way to love someone whose beliefs she has outgrown.
'The Distance Between Us' by Reyna Grande
When Reyna Grande’s father leaves his wife and three children behind in a village in Mexico to make the dangerous trek across the border to the United States, he promises he will soon return from “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) with enough money to build them a dream house. When he summons his wife to join him, Reyna and her siblings are deposited with their stern, unsmiling grandmother. The three siblings are forced to look out for themselves. When their mother at last returns, the reunion sets the Reyna’s own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years, her long-absent father.
'This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare' by Gabourey Sibide
Gabourey Sidibe skyrocketed to international fame in 2009 when she played the leading role in Lee Daniels' acclaimed movie Precious. In This is Just My Face, she shares a one-of-a-kind life story. Sidibe paints her Bed-Stuy/Harlem family life with a polygamous father and a gifted mother who supports her two children by singing in the subway. Sidibe tells the story of her first job as a phone sex “talker.” And she shares her unconventional rise to fame as a movie star, alongside “a superstar cast of rich people who lived in mansions and had their own private islands and amazing careers" while she lived in her mom's apartment.
'Ma Speaks Up And A First-Generation Daughter Talks Back' by Marianne Leone
Marianne Leone’s Ma is in many senses a larger-than-life character, one who might be capable, even from the afterlife, of shattering expectations. Born on a farm in Italy, Linda finds her way to the United States under dark circumstances, having escaped a forced marriage to a much older man, and marries a good Italian boy. She never has full command of English, especially when questioned by authorities, and when she is suddenly widowed with three young children, she has few options. To her daughter’s horror and misery, she becomes the school lunch lady. Ma Speaks Up is a record of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, with the wrong family, in the wrong religion.
'One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter' by Scaachi Koul
In Scaachi's memoir-based essay collection One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, she shares her fears, outrages, and mortifying experiences as an outsider growing up in Canada. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding (as an Indian woman), to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrant parents and bled down a generation. Strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, forcing her to confront questions about gender dynamics, racial tensions, ethnic stereotypes, and her father's creeping mortality, all as she tries to find her feet in the world.