Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: May 30, 2006 (Originally Published in 1943)
Source: Borrowed
The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

My Review

Most of you know that I spend my time during the school year as a substitute teacher. When I was asked to tutor a few students who were being taught from home, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought the experience would be good for my resume, but I also just really love working with kids. One of my students was assigned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and I was thrilled. I'd never read the beloved American classic before, and I couldn't wait to jump in and see why so many people love this book.

What I noticed about Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is that so many different life events happen, but she writes in a way that just really lets the readers know that it's just a book about life. People grow. People have babies. People die. Kids grow up and start their own lives. All of these events are things that everyone deals with, and I think that's why this novel appeals to so many different people at different points in their lives.

I really liked the slower pacing of the novel. Events happen as if they were true-to-life, and I could imagine many of the these events happening to my own family. I never felt the need to finish it as I do with so many other books. On the contrary, I wanted this book to last forever and ever!

I also really loved and respected the characters. I can definitely see myself as a Francie Nolan because I'm constantly reading or trying to better myself. The scary thing is I can really see my mom as Katie, and I now understand why this is her favorite book. Many of you don't know this, but my mom unfortunately had to drop out of school before she even got to high school. She and Katie share many of the same educational values for their children. Katie wanted to ensure that all of her kids finished eighth grade and above, and my mom made sure that all three of us finished high school, and college. How can you not respect these two characters? They are just perfect examples of real Americans.

I also love the balance of normal life and a few of the unexpected events that Smith throws in the novel. Some of them definitely catch you off guard and really bring you back into the novel and into the moment.

If you haven't, I recommend that you read this book. Yes, it's very long (my copy was 496 pages), but it's worth it. Once you read it, you'll come to realize that people really did (and still do) have to face tough lives. I can definitely see myself rereading this one sometime in the future just to experience life with Francie, Neeley, Katie, Johnny, and the rest of the characters again. You'll also love yourself for getting to know the amazing characters that Smith brings to life in this extraordinary classic.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrants, Betty Smith grew up poor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These experiences served as the framework to her first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).

After marrying George H. E. Smith, a fellow Brooklynite, she moved with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he pursued a law degree at the University of Michigan. At this time, she gave birth to two girls and waited until they were in school so she could complete her higher education. Although Smith had not finished high school, the university allowed her to enroll in classes. There she honed her skills in journalism, literature, writing, and drama, winning a prestigious Hopwood Award. She was a student in the classes of Professor Kenneth Thorpe Rowe.

In 1938 she divorced her husband and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There she married Joseph Jones in 1943, the same year in which A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published. She teamed with George Abbott to write the book for the 1951 musical adaptation of the same name. Throughout her life, Smith worked as a dramatist, receiving many awards and fellowships including the Rockefeller Fellowship and the Dramatists Guild Fellowship for her work in drama. Her other novels include Tomorrow Will Be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958) and Joy in the Morning (1963).
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  1. I am very familiar with this story since it has come up in several conversation and have always known that I would read it eventually. It is on my list of library books. I am glad that you got to it and enjoyed it. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is an important story.

  2. This sounds interesting! I'm currently searching for some British and American classic books so that one is definitely going to my reading list.

  3. It's definitely one that you should read. It was just such a perfect book. :)

  4. That's what I always said - "I'll read it eventually." I'm glad things turned out the way they did because I really did have a good experience with it.

    It's a very important story. It's been a few weeks since I finished it, and I'm still thinking about it. :)

  5. This book definitely holds a special place in my heart as a book I read as a kid and one that I still remember fondly. I'm glad you had an excuse to pick it up and that you loved it!

  6. I think I honestly might have read it as a kid and just lost track of it. Everything was so familiar as I was reading - Aunt Sissy, Johnny - like I knew all of it. I know my mom never read it to me because she has a hard time reading aloud, but man... I just knew pretty much everything, but it was still such an incredible experience. I'll definitely have to read this one to my kids if I ever have them.


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