Tuesday, June 5, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
By Betty Smith
Copyright 1943, 1947
HarmperCollins Publishing
Adult Fiction

There is so much to say about this incredible book that I hardly know where to begin.  First, I think I'm fairly certain this was only partially fiction. It seems most likely that much of the book is based on the childhood experiences of the author.

The major theme of the book is the cycle of poverty and how one goes about pulling themselves out of it.  The story, however, is an interwoven tale about a young girl, Francie Nolan, and the ups and downs she experiences growing up in a Brooklyn slum in 1912. 

I just loved the character of Francie!  She is spunky, smart, thoughtful and eccentric.  Francie's mother Katie has done the best she can for Francie and her brother, Neeley.  Following some advice, Katie has read a page of the Bible and a page of Shakespeare to the children nearly every day of their lives.  Katie seems aware that education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle.

Francie takes that education and runs with it, developing early a keen sense of understanding and insight to the realities of her world.  Her character knows that "Poor people have a great passion for huge quantities of things," simply due to the lack they usually experience. 

As Francie grows up, she is changed by various experiences and people in her life (as are we all).  One teacher tells her to "tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened."  This helps Francie develop her writing skills, as well as learning a valuable lesson about honesty. 

I really enjoyed reading this beautiful story about a young girl coming of age during a very difficult time in the world.  There were a few part of the book that made me a little bit uncomfortable as I recalled the times in my own childhood when my family stared poverty in the face.  But these are the realities of our world, and this story is a great example of how a person growing up in difficult circumstances overcomes them and makes their world a better place.  Just like the tree of the title, a tree that grows up out of the Brooklyn concrete in a place where one would never expect anything to grow, Francie Nolan thrives in the slum and becomes so much more than anyone would have ever expected. 

I highly recommend this important book for ALL readers. 

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