Book Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Number in #100bookproject: 7
Level of Recommendation: High
Favourite Quote: “Mother, I know there are no ghosts or fairies. I would be teaching the child foolish lies.”
Mary spoke sharply, “You do not know whether there are ghosts on earth or angels in heaven.”
“I know there is no Santa Claus.”
“Yet you must teach the child what these things are so.”
“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”
“Because,” explained Mary Rommely simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in the child can reach back and live in her imagination.” – pg 84
Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a 400 page plus novel focuses on the life of Francie Nolan, a first generation America girl growing up in the dynamic world of 1900s Brooklyn. The novel is written in a semi-omniscient point of view, with a focus on Francie’s point of view. Infact the novel is so clearly about Francie’s view of things and her development from a girl to a young woman that it almost reads like a memoir.
However, it’s within the authors choice to dip into other major characters thoughts that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn becomes more than just Francie’s story. It is instead the story of how one family, with all its different branches, combined to influence, frustrate, inspire and grow a young woman.
The story takes place from before Francie’s birth, with her grandparents and parents immigration into America and her parents early marriage, to just before Francie goes off to college in Michigan at age 17. Indeed, it is within this ending that the point of the book is revealed, it is Francie’s acceptance of the loss of childhood and the start of adulthood. Many of the events in Francie’s life mirror that of the authors, Betty Smith’s, life and this adds to the memoir-esque feel of the book.
The strengths of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are the amount of detail in every single event of Francie’s early life (I would go so far to say as it is the most intricate account of a childhood I’ve ever read) , the enormous amount of reality and grime Smith brings to each character, especially Katie (Francie’s mother), and the way each seemingly small event is brought back around to contribute to a defining characteristic of Francie as a young woman.
The only downfall of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the density of the book. It is close to 500 pages and some of the included details seem heavy handed and unnecessary. And since it is a novel without much action or conflict it can be, at times, a read that requires a dedicated reader.
Indeed, nothing particularly spectacular happens in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; there are no intense conflicts, no great changes within Francie’s world of Brooklyn, no violence, no wars, no horrific traumas and no torrid love affairs, yet the beauty of this book is that Smith turns the everyday world of the Nolans, with all its poverty, dirt , family bonding, laughter and struggle into some strangely magical. In essence, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a understated celebration of family, home and growing up and that in itself makes it a worthwhile read.
Want to read along with the #100bookproject? The next book up is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis