The plot of this memoir is divided into five parts, most of which represent a place where the Walls family lived. The towns and cities are all part of this eternal journey they take together and out of which come the events that mold their characters. Nevada is a desert that is very representative of the arid, dry childhood Jeannette, Brian, Lori and Maureen experience. Welch is covered with a fine layer of coal dust and is often wet and cold, which is representative of their later childhood, when they scrounged for food, heat, and proper shelter. New York is exciting and offers new and different experiences which can be seen in the new success and comfort each of the children discover.
The plot also imitates the idea of a young boy coming of age in a bildungsroman.
Jeannette is the young boy who learns how to be a mature adult through
each and every experience in her life. She learns how to cook, scrounge
for food, and find necessary shelter for herself and her siblings. She
also learns how to deal with inept and neglectful parents who offer little
in the way of comfort and support. In the process, she learns the value
of love, loyalty, and strength of character.
Jeannette Walls writes a reader-friendly story which relates the unbelievable
circumstances under which she and her brother and sisters were raised.
The language is representative of a group of people who grew up in abject
poverty and therefore, draws the reader in with the sense that anyone
of us could have grown up this way. She shares her story with no sense
of self-pity for what happened to her, but instead presents it realistically.
The rising action begins with Jeannette seeing her mother searching
through a dumpster and then begins a series of flashbacks to being raised
by the homeless woman she now sees. It ends with the mental breakdown
of her sister and the temporary breakup of her family.
The falling action involves Maureen's escape to California after serving
a year in prison and Dad's death from a heart attack. Then the family
barely sees each other for the next five years until they all - except
for Maureen - meet for Thanksgiving dinner. There they come to terms with
the events in their lives that dramatically impact on them and lose any
sense of recrimination.
The point of view is first person, told from Jeannette's viewpoint. She is the narrator and this allows the reader to personally experience how she witnesses her life in poverty and how she learns from it and the parents who often let her down.