Jeannette Walls comes from a family of four brothers whose parents are Rex, an alcoholic, and Rose Mary, an artist and painter. Until Jeannette reaches the age of six, her family moves around Arizona and California once a few months when the debts accumulated by Rex and Rose Mary are getting bigger and can no longer be paid. When Jeannette turns seven, the family moves to Battle Mountain, Nevada, where she enjoys stability for the first time, and Rex is engaged in a mining company.
Finally, however, Rex is losing its job and children are beginning to feel the shortcomings. Even so, the family is a happy one. However, things change little when a boy develops a fixation for Jeannette and often attacks her when they are alone at home. Jeannette’s big sister, Lori, takes her father’s gun to scare the boy, but police are called on the scene, and when Rex and Rose Mary find out that they might lose custody of their children, they run out of Pheonix, Arizona.
Jeannette believes at first she will live with her materialist grandmother, but she is informed that her grandmother has died and will reside on the property Rose Mary has inherited. In the beginning, things are good for children, the house is a very spacious one, and the grandmother left a significant amount of money as an inheritance. But the money is spent quickly and the house soon gets into a state of degradation. When Rex asks Jeannette what she would like for her birthday, she tells her that she wants him to stop drinking, so Rex resorts to an extreme gesture to control her alcohol dependence.