Book Thoughts: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Oh, magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a special kind of book. It isn’t a page turner by any means, and to be frank moves quite slowly. However, the pace of the book has no baring on the wonderfulness of it. Every scene, every chapter contains something that will either make you want to pull your hair out, tear up, or laugh.

Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world.

So begins the story of Frances (Francie) Nolan’s life in the early 1900‘s Brooklyn. The novel gives us glimpses of poverty, alcoholism, elitism, racism, and feminism all while depicting Francie’s childhood. From a curious intelligent girl, to an adventurous young woman, Francie’s life goes through it all. She is armed with her knowledge which no one can take away from her, her belief in herself, and her determineation to make something of herself.

I related to Francie in such a personal way. Growing up I was Francie. I spend my recess and lunch hours in the library. I finished one or two books a day. After I did my homework, I played outside with all the neighborhood kids. I ended the day with scraped knees, and yes, another book until my mom came in the room I shared with my brother and sister to tell us to go to bed. It was a simple yet magical time in my life, and one that causes me constant nostalgia. I was brought back to my childhood while reading this and it was a lovely experience.

What I find admiring about the characters in this book, is their strength. They go through so much pain, loss, and humiliation, yet they don’t give up. They get up the next day and do what they need to survive.

Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

This book has strong female characters which is impressive considering how long ago this book was written. What is interesting is that it doesn’t stray to far from what we women go through today. It depicts how hard it is for women to raise children. It gives us glimpses of the discrimination they face at work. The inequality in their partnerships, and the struggle to not lose themselves in the process. Francie’s mother Katie holds her house down because Francie’s father is an alcoholic. She makes tough decisions that aren’t always the easiest or most enjoyable for the household, but they’re always in the best interest of the family.

On the other hand Johnny, Francie’s father frustrated me to know end. I’ve been around enough alcoholics to know the devastating impact it has on a person’s life and those closest to them. Johnny drinks because he feels like a failure. Yes, I get that too and as far as alcoholics go he isn’t the worse one I’ve come across. He genuinely loves his family, and is burdened by his own feelings of inadequacy . However, YOU HAVE CHILDREN so pull you head out your ass and provide for them. It makes me so angry when I think about what he put his family through because “Oh he couldn’t be a singer” oh boo hoo, my heart just breaks for him.
Meanwhile, his children are starving and freezing to death because though his own drunkenness he can’t hold down a job. Even more frustrating is the family’s attitude towards his alcoholism. No one acknowledges it and if they do it’s with euphemisms, and to console him, Not once does someone think to find him help, or give him an ultimatum. They they don’t hand him the drink, but they and enable and it’s was equal parts frustrating and tragic to see.

Ok Rant over.

On to the writing, Betty Smith’s writing is filled with beautiful passages and descriptions. I felt like I could really see Brooklyn during this era through her writing. I know this novel may have been a sort of wish fulfillment on Smith’s part, and I’m glad that she got to live vicariously through her character.

It doesn’t take long to write things of which you know nothing. When you write of actual things, it takes longer, because you have to live them first.

Despite the tragedy, the book ends on a positive note, and I couldn’t have been happier with it.

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