A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.” – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
So, I think I have found my new favourite book. Granted, I will likely find another favourite book soon, but I’m sure Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is going to stay with me until I’m a little old lady.
The story centres around a girl named Francie Nolan. We meet her as an 11 year old child, growing up in a suburb of New York City in the 1920’s. The Nolan family is made up of a often drunk father, Johnny, a hard working mother, Katie, a daughter, Francie and her younger brother, Neeley.
Francie is a quiet child. She loves her family, she understands she is very poor, and she is an avid reader. Francie finds freedom in the pages at her local library. Despite the harsh conditions she lives in, she thrives despite the odds. Her character mirrors the tree that grows outside her window: A Tree of Heaven which grows toward the sun despite its urban surroundings.
The book jumps around in time. It goes back to the time when Francie’s mum and dad meet and fall in love. It then flashes forward to when the kids are in school and Francie begins to advocate for her own education. The next section sees Francie and Neeley working to raise money to attend secondary school. When the first world war breaks out, Francie finds herself trying to make the best decisions for her future.
This novel reads a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird in the way that it centres around a precocious little girl who comes of age in a difficult era. The writing is memorable, thoughtful and filled with vivid imagery.
If you liked TKAM, I highly suggest giving A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a try.
“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