Saturday, June 11, 2016

Betty Smith - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Orville Prescott has called this American classic “one of the most dearly beloved and one of the finest books of our day.” Indeed, when A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was first published in 1943, four printing plants were required to keep up with the demand. Now, almost 60 years later, readers are still fascinated by Betty Smith’s moving portrayal of the Nolans, a poor family living in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn. A poignant tale of childhood and the ties of family, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn will transport the reader to the early 1900s where a little girl named Francie dreamily looks out her window at a tree struggling to reach the sky. 

Comment: I got this book last year after reading some good comments about it and after discussing the idea with my friend Hannah, we decided to have a buddy read. Once again, I've finished faster and here are some of my thoughts on a book I liked and found amazing to see and quite addictive, despite its more than 600 pages.

This is a classic story by author Betty Smith, focusing on the Nolan family, a poor family of 4 and their close relatives and how they dealt with the challenges in their lives and the difficulties of living in Brooklyn in the early decade of the 1910 and 1920s and their lives throughout the decades that follow.
All we see if told from Francie Nolan's perspective, a young girl growing up and realizing things and letting us in to her private world where small things can have huge impacts...

I was really impressed by this book. I wasn't aware of it before reading some good things about it last year and about the heroine but now that I've read and liked the book, I can say it's a wonderful story about family, special traditions and growing up, letting childhood and innocence behind. It's not a all happiness book, there are actually many things one would say are depressing, but I think overall, the warm feelings it provokes in the reader are well worth it.

I liked Francie as a heroine. She is a shy child, but very determined in times, as when she decided to switch schools. She is our innocent eyes towards a bleak life filled with despair and poverty but beauty in simple things. Things we can understand as complex were we grown ups but when a child says or makes reference to it, we can see ourselves in her place, we can get back to our own private and personal memories of long ago times when things had another taste, another importance. I think he success of this book must be precisely that, the possibility to think and compare what used to be to hat it is and how different things look when you can think about it seriously or not.

Francie is a young girl we can relate to, and not only because she likes to read and feels the need to understand and think abut things. Even when she grows up and realizes many of the things she thought meant certain things and, after all, don't, she still maintains her innocence and hope for the future, she still dreams and sees beauty in hard things... I liked her POV, her "voice" and I both dreaded and wished for more pages because I knew it wouldn't all be happy stuff but she would be voicing them.

The secondary characters are key parts to the success of the story. They make everything possible in a way that not many authors can do to their characters.
Francie's parents are obvious choices as hey portray the idea of self worth and determination and of good intentions but bad choices, but all intertwined with good and decent feelings along with some human weakness...I found the whole concept of the family an amazing one.
In fact, everyone in this book has an important part and I'm sure there are books or studies about them in books about this novel, but to me the beauty of all that is how every character was important to Francie in all parts of her life. People matter...

There are some less than good elements in this story, some bad things we read about or that Francie or her family go though. But that is part of growing up, of learning, of resisting a bad environment, like the tree mentioned in the title does in a challenging place.
But we learn to see through the difficulties, to wish for better and greater things...and to wish that Francie will think about all the wonderful childhood experiences and not feel as despaired about grown up things like a broken heart, too much.

I strongly recommend this to everyone. It's not perfect, there are things one could change or improve or could have been written differently, but the feelings, the ideas and emotions are all there and are all worth reading about and processing. I hope my friend ends up having such a good opinion as I did.
Grade: 9/10

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