By the author of The Glass Castle, Half Broke Horses is the story of her maternal grandmother, told as a novel for lack of detailed historical documents. It’s a wild story of a girl born in a dugout on the Texan prairie to poor and well-intentioned but not very effective parents, a girl who is intelligent and determined but passed over for educational opportunities in favor of her brother who has no particular aptitude for academics except for that precious Y chromosome, and who embarks on a self-directed quest for a career and a better life that starts with riding for a month, alone, to teach in a one-classroom school. Follows a bigamist husband, years of fighting small-town prejudices, floods and droughts, and the great depression.
This grandmother is formidable and, if you read The Glass Castle, you can see how she bequeathed her inner strength and resourcefulness to the author. An inspiring portrait that blessedly avoids hagiography as we watch the grandmother (occasionally) beat her children, traffic alcohol, and curse a blue streak. It’s all part of the character.