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Half Broke Horses

by Jeannette Walls

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,9562122,125 (3.98)1 / 221
A true-life novel about Lily Casey Smith (the author's grandmother) who at age six helped her father break horses, at age fifteen left home to teach in a frontier town, and later as a wife and mother runs a vast ranch in Arizona where she survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy--but despite a life of hardscrabble drudgery still remains a woman of indomitable spirit.… (more)
  1. 11
    These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner (Electablue)
  2. 11
    Last of the Saddle Tramps by Mesannie Wilkins (SunnySD)
    SunnySD: If you enjoyed Jeannette Walls' tale of her grandmother's adventures, but wish it had been nonfiction, Wilkin's journey across country with her four-footed companions will be right up your alley.

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Read it for the second time and STILL give it a star rating! Now she should get to work on that "middle story"... the one about her mom. I know she said that was the original plan, but it's time. ( )
  nwieme | Mar 19, 2020 |
Very enjoyable read. The depiction of life on a ranch in the early part of the 20th century was fascinating. The lead character is based on a true-life figure. She comes across initially as a woman ahead of her times. She was true to her dreams. But she is also a victim of the unbridled wild west, and does not see how her children are being adversely affected by her brutal honesty and cold reflections. I found her to be a very cold and uncaring woman which was very disappointing at the end. ( )
  CarolBurrows | Dec 27, 2019 |
This was a Christmas present, and I knew Walls' name from several friends having recommended The Glass Castle (though I still haven't gotten around to reading that one yet).

Walls' grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, was more of a character than any writer could make up. (Details, though, did have to be fabricated out of necessity; thus the fiction and non-fiction shelf labels.) The book has a strong, distinctive voice: Smith was tough as nails, unsentimental, and opinionated. Walls does a nice job communicating Smith's flaws, especially in parenting, without having the character come out and admit to being wrong.

But Smith's flaws aren't nearly as important to the story as her gumption and the gumption of her family members. It's that wild-headed acumen of hers - and the situations it gets her into and out of - that makes this an irresistible read. ( )
  rhowens | Nov 26, 2019 |
Memoir; Adult nonfiction
  NDReader | Feb 27, 2019 |
This is a fictionalized biography of Jeanette Walls' grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.

Lily's father was disabled. He fancied himself as a horse trader and since, he could no longer do it himself, he had Lily breaking colts when she was six years old as a way of supporting his family.

But Lily longed to go to school. When finally allowed a chance to attend, she enjoyed a Catholic boarding high school but her rough pioneer ways made her an unusual student who didn't fit in. When the money earmarked for her education was lost by her father in a get rich scheme, her teachers weren't sorry to see her go. Her father assumed she'd come back to the ranch, as he needed her to continue breaking horses for the family support.

But Lily had had enough and at sixteen years old set out to take a teaching job at a time when war made certified teachers scarce. Deprived of a way to get there, she rode her horse five hundred miles by herself.

Her career, her marriage, her ranch experiences, her realized ambition to pilot the thrilling, new-fangled airplanes, all illustrate an original, gun-toting, tough lady by-passing the conventions of the day.

We also see a bit of Jeanette 's mother, Rose Mary Walls', rather chaotic childhood and young adulthood. She is the subject of Jeanette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle, which I haven't yet read. ( )
  streamsong | Sep 24, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 211 (next | show all)
The pert style of “Half Broke Horses” is much more repetitive and grating than the more spontaneous-sounding voice Ms. Walls used to describe her own life.

But the author comes from a family that knew how to lure horses using grain, not rope. And she has inherited a version of that skill. So she has managed to make her second book almost as inviting as her first, even though its upright heroine is never as startling as Ms. Walls’s parents were.
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It was the great north wind that made the Vikings.
—Old Norwegian saying
This book is dedicated
to all teachers,
and especially to

Rose Mary Walls,
Phyllis Owens, and
Esther Fuchs

And in memory of
Jeannette Bivens and
Lily Casey Smith
First words
Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.
I never met a kid I couldn't teach. Every kid was good at something, and the trick was to find out what it was, then use it to teach him everything else.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Publisher Comments:
Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle was nothing short of spectacular (Entertainment Weekly). Now she brings us the story of her grandmother — told in a voice so authentic and compelling that the book is destined to become an instant classic.

"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, in Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town — riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds — against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It will transfix readers everywhere.
Haiku summary
Hearse full of schoolkids?

It's just their bus, don't worry

No dead kids! It's safe.


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