Half Broke Horses is a "true-life" novel, meaning that Walls took all the stories she had heard and collected about her grandmother and wove them into a narrative, smoothing them into place in a coherent timeline. Since the novel is written in the first person, she admits to assuming her grandmother's thoughts and exact words, and it's probably best to just treat the whole thing as probable fiction - beyond that, though, many of the stories kind of defy belief! From learning to fly a plane during the Depression to occasionally threatening a nefarious character with a pearl-handled revolver, Lily Smith had quite the life!
Half Broke Horses is a really simple narrative, usually just a few stories sort of related to a period of Lily's life, loosely broken into parts by the passage of time. Some stories are barely a page long, but Walls infuses Lily with enough character and gumption that it was hard to put the book down, and I frequently would sit with it through just one more story, then another. It's highly readable and a little wild. I went into it having heard a lot about The Glass Castle, and I expected it to be a little hard to read and emotionally challenging, but with a few exceptions, Half Broke Horses is really just fun. There are a couple of tense, tough scenes, and a handful of occasions clearly not suited to the modern era, but the majority of the book is just tagging along with Lily as she goes for wild rides on bucking mustangs and driving the town taxi/school bus/hearse combo to get by. Overall, I had a lot of fun with it, and it was nice to read something simple and light every evening before going to bed. I understand Glass Castle might be a rather more challenging experience, but Walls’ writing was enough to make me even more curious to read more of her, so I’m going to start it next!
This review was also posted on CannonballRead, where I’m racing to review 52 books, with the personal caveat that they have to be four or five stars!