Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Thoughts - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
published 1943
489 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

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 thoughts -

Okay, friends, this will have to be the quickest glowing review ever, because HOLY COBWEBS are my kids being 2 YEARS OLD lately. Our most recent adventure involved a bottle of pancake syrup and my kitchen floor, and I do not feel like I can turn my back on them even for a second! Yikes!

But seriously.....what a wonderful novel this was. Francie Nolan and her family absolutely crept in under my skin and started to walk around with me in my thoughts, they felt so real and full of life. Smith does a perfect job of rendering her characters as both sympathetic and flawed - I want to sit down and have coffee with Katie and Sissy, and comb the library shelves with Francie, and have an evening out with Johnny. Each character makes you find a way to fall just a little bit in love with them.

Watching Francie and Neely start to grow up, figure out their world and make a place for themselves in it, is a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking journey. Watching them find ways to bring joy into their sometimes cheerless surroundings is inspirational. Watching the adults in their lives navigate their dysfunctional but strangely loving relationships is often painful. This novel is so full of emotion and truth that is practically bleeds from the page.

I have a LOT of sections marked, so I'll just share a couple of my favorites -

"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..." (p. 164)

"Francie couldn't understand why the heroine didn't marry the villain. It would solve the rent problem and surely a man who loved her so much that he was willing to go through all kinds of fuss because she wouldn't have him wasn't a man to ignore. At least, he would be around while the hero was off on a wild goose chase." (p. 217)

" 'People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,' thought Francie, 'something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains - a cup of strong hot coffee when you're blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you're alone - just to be with someone you love. These things make happiness.' " (p. 448)

I just loved this book. If you think you don't like older novels - that they will be dull or the style difficult - give this one a try. I don't think it will be long before you will be falling in love with Francie Nolan too. Highly recommended.

Finished - 6/23/13
Source - my bookshelves
MPAA rating - PG-13 for honest discussions about alcoholism, sexuality, and poverty
My rating - 10/10


bermudaonion said...

I bet there's never a dull moment in your household!

How have I missed this book? It sounds wonderful!

Kelly TheWellReadRedhead said...

Francie Nolan = one of my all time favorite book characters, hands down. So glad you loved it. Also? You make me terrified for my son's 2nd birthday next week...

russell1200 said...

Somehow your review is reminding me of that classic by Laura Numeroff "If You Feed a Pig a Pancake".

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I've read this one 2-3 times and really think it is special.

Kristen M. said...

I really need to get to this one. I've heard nothing but good about it!
Now, about those kiddos and the syrup ... I thank my lucky stars every day that Z was not a kid who got into things. :)

Shelley said...

One of my favorite books ever! Sorry about the syrup incident. Been there, done that!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This is one of my favorites! So glad you loved it too.

Aarti said...

I LOVED this book, too. In some ways, I wish I had read it earlier but in other ways, I think I read it at the exact right time. It was so perfect. I want to read the semi-sequel that takes place at University of Michigan, too.