For starters, Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls is quite different from her first book, The Glass Castle. The latter is her memoir of her childhood and the former is the story of her grandmother's life. So you do, especially towards the last third of the book, get some hints of things to come (both events and themes)--but overall it's a separate story.
The tone is different and the beats of the story are all different, as well. Part of this is the fact that Lily's childhood goes by fairly quickly, so we're not seeing the story of children struggling to get by with their parents--we're seeing the story of a woman taking charge of her life, again and again. She's quite the inspiration.
Stepping away from her family's home to be out on her own, getting herself ready and able to teach, moving here and there, riding her horse alone for a month through the Southwest to get to a teaching post, cleanly putting an end to a bad situation, learning to fly a plane, and working harder than hard every single day because that was what she asked of herself. She worked hard because she knew she could do it and she knew that the results she would get from working hard would be so much better than the results from just going with the flow. She saw how things could be depending on if she acted one way or another, did one thing or another--and she decided what to do based on what she wanted to happen.
Texas, New Mexico, and mainly Arizona make up these pages. And that makes me wonder why it took me so long to read this book, given that stories like this of people who lived in the Southwest are exactly what I love. Given that Jeannette Walls was writing her grandmother's story, she had to call this book a real-life novel. It's technically fiction--but it's based on truth. The ranch, the teaching--the person; that's all true. So in a way, this book is like an oral history. It's this family's story, the story of a woman who lived and prospered in the last days of the West.
It's strange. She (Lily) talks about the new people that were able to come in to the Phoenix area once air conditioning made the real temperatures tolerable to them. She says it, you know, a little disdainfully--but rightly enough so because she lived and worked outdoors for enough years that she proved she could easily tough out something so small as the weather. So you want to take her side when she says things like this--but I'm probably one of those people. I'm part of that wave of people who moved to Arizona out of California (not to Phoenix, but still to Arizona) in this modern age of air conditioned houses and cars, grocery stores with fresh supplies, and paved roads. I don't have to live like Lily did, and I know that there are so many things that the modern age has lost, so many connections with this land that we no longer have. But I am grateful to people like her who were here before--and to those who were before her.
The more I think about it, the more I realize another strange thing. Lily loved respecting the land (taking care, for instance, not to let the cattle overgraze and things like that), but she also loved new things. She loved airplanes--and then lamented when the air become so controlled with the same flight paths and such that cars needed to follow. But she wasn't the only one who loved planes, and when you have so many people using something, well, you have to put down some rules and organization just to keep everyone safe. There are losses as time moves forward--but that's just the way it is.
I'm almost ending on a somber note there. So I'll finish by saying that I enjoyed this book as a source of people's stories, a source filled with what it was that made their lives theirs.