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Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty SmithA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Published by Harper
on 1940
Pages: 496
Source: Bought
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. (Goodreads)

My Thoughts

It’s actually a wonder I finished this book, considering I was on a two-week trip this month and other than that, was busy watching every episode of The 100 (I caved, I did). But I did manage to finish it, and I’m so happy I did. I’ve never read a book for school before that I really enjoyed. I already owned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I chose to read it because 1) it was on the list of choices for my Writer’s Craft class, and 2) I wanted to clear it off my shelves. But now I know I’ll be keeping the book, because I loved it so much.

It’s hard to say exactly why I liked the book because truthfully, nothing much happens in the nearly 500 pages. It’s really just a recounting of Francie Nolan’s first 17 years. Yet it’s so much more – we’re taken back in time to the life of Francie’s grandparents, the meeting of her parents, the birth of her and her brother. We’re not confined to just the thoughts of Francie, but also those of her mother and brother and neighbours. I think the only reason it’s not boring is because of the scope of the novel. It spans over generations and offers a glimpse into the lives of almost everyone Francie meets. Everything happens, just as it says on the back cover, as things happen in real life: not in quick, short bursts, but in long drawn out periods, over months and years and even decades. Every part of Francie’s story is told fully, written with a quiet patience. Nothing is skimmed over or fast-tracked.

The writing is simple and presents the story as it is, no tricks. Yet there’s still so much subtlety in the way it’s written. Little details that can easily go unnoticed may be the most important part of a chapter. It’s the kind of book that needs all your attention, because you don’t want to miss anything.

Because I read this for school, I’ve had to do a lot of research on it. The story of Francie’s life so closely mirrors Smith’s life that it’s almost a memoir. I believe this is why Smith was able to write with such incredible detail and emotion. Others who’ve read it have commented on the outstanding minute details that are included, especially in regards to the setting: early 20th century Brooklyn. And it’s remarkable just how deeply Smith delves into the thoughts of other characters. Of course she could never have known what her mother or father or aunt was thinking when she was actually living this story as a young girl, but written from Francie’s perspective she’s able to give each character such a vibrant backstory and personality, not leaving a single detail untouched.

It’s definitely a heavier read, but I loved it nonetheless. Never did I feel bored or tired with the story, which was surprising since there was really nothing happening other than the passing of time. I’m so glad I chose to read this book and I absolutely recommend it, whether you’re looking to read a modern classic or just something with incredible substance.

4 birds