Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Wells is a true life novel about her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. A true life novel is biography with fictionalized information because it cannot be verified and the details are vague.
The book opens with 10 year old Lily in the fields with her younger brother, Buster, 9, and young sister, Helen, 7, when the trio is caught in the middle of a flash flood on their homestead along the Pecos River. Through insight and bravery, Lily is able to get her siblings in a tree where they stay all night and wait until the water subsides. He father, Adam Casey, is a dreamer with moneymaking schemes which don’t work out. Her mother, Daisy Mae, feels she is not made to live on a homestead and always talking about “our due.” After a tornado destroys their house, the family moves to the KC Ranch in Hondo Valley, Capitan Mountains, New Mexico. As Lily grows, she learns the rough life of breaking horses and begins her career early as a teacher since teachers were in short supply for the rural areas during WWI. She would hop from town to town, teaching as long as she was needed. The book ventures into her married life and motherhood and her ability to find ways to survive in the toughest economic times.
Half broke Horses is an easy read and if you’ve read The Glass Castle, many details will be repeated especially when Ms. Walls’ mother enters the story. I enjoyed the book as a fictionalized version of her grandmother’s life. I enjoyed the parents’ descriptions about the Lord. Her mother said that if you want to see the love of the Lord, look at the sunrise. Her father would say if you want to see the wrath of the Lord, watch a tornado. I also had to laugh at the “foreshadowing” as the author writes about her mother. For instance, at Rosemary’s birth, the midwife is claimed to have said, “I see a wanderer.” There was one glaring typo that I found that really irritated me for the rest of the book. In an incident where Lily must whip Rosemary for disobedience, it is written “…then whipped off my belt and started hiding her” (page 211). I know the author meant hitting. I really dislikes typos, even my own. I think that a book being published would be more closely checked for typos. Overall, Half Broke Horses is an easy read with great details about life in the Southwest during the first half of the 20th century. If you’re a fan of Jeannette Walls, you will enjoy this book.
“Most important thing in life is learning how to fall” –Adam Casey