A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A classic coming of age novel where a young girls love of reading leads to strength and perseverance.
A young girl’s coming of age story at the turn-of-the-century. It’s about hope and perseverance in times of adversity. Francie Nolan grows up in the tenements of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. The story is about the daily struggles of a young and innocent Francie, her younger brother Neeley, and her parents Katie and Johnny. Francie relies on her imagination and her love of reading to escape the poverty and difficulties that define her life. The narrarator describes the trials and tribulations of the Nolan family as seen through the eyes of Francie.
“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving semi-autobiographical story of Betty Smith’s life. The book, first published in 1943, was Smith’s first novel. She sold the film rights to the book and a movie directed by Elia Kazan was produced in 1945.
The book is a family drama, that is at times overwhelming, uplifting, frustrating, and heartbreaking. Smith captures all the significant moments of Francie’s life and shares them in a rich manner, including Francie’s difficult school experiences, her first job, and her first boyfriend. The constant that you see is that like a tree that struggles to grows without sun or water, Francie, despite hardships is persistent and determined to fulfill her dreams of going to college.
One of more moving parts of the book is Katie’s determination that her children will be educated, so as to have a better life. She reads to them every night before going to bed from both the Bible and a book of Shakespeare. Francie’s love of reading instill by her mother, is evident when she gets older and visits the library and is determined to read every book there, all in spite of a librarian who does not like children.
Each character is extremely well developed, from Francie’s alcoholic father who had difficulty holding a job, to man-loving “Aunt Sissy” who had trouble having a baby. But none more than Francie, with a vivid imagination and a love for reading and writing. The book is heavily weighted with honesty and soulfulness. Smith captures the period and the poverty of the family and treats them with grace and dignity. The writing was fluid and the story was smartly structured into 5 parts covering different periods of Francie’s life.
Published August 12, 2005 (Audible)
Narrator Kate Burton
“She was made up of more, too. She was the books she read in the library. She was the flower in the brown bowl. Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie’s secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father stumbling home drunk. She was all of these things and of something more…It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life – the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike.”