Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A book that just jumped off the library shelf at me. I just picked it up because the blurb at the back sounded interesting. For some time, I’ve been checking books on Goodreads before I pick them up. That’s all very good, but I’ve missed the spontaneity of picking up a book just by the blurb.

ATreeGrowsInBrooklyn

It is a coming of age novel about Francie Nolan. Francie lives in an impoverished neighbourhood of Brooklyn with her mother, an ambitious woman, a loving father, who is drunk, more often than not and a her little brother Neely, with who she shares a special bond. She grows with the knowledge that she is not her mother’s favourite child. In more ways than one, Francis’ grew up knowing that she had to look out for herself as well as her brother. Despite her mother’s preferential treatment, she harbors no ill will towards her little brother. Francie doesn’t have much in her life to look forward to but her visits to the local library where the books provide the escape from reality. It is fascinating to read about her love of learning. Francie’s mother Katie is determined for her children to better themselves, and does all that she can do, starting from reading them Shakespeare and the Bible as bed time reading to managing to wrangle music lessons for them. She will do anything to ensure that her children have a better life than she did.

The story goes back and forth to her parents’ life before they got married and to the present day world of Francie and Neeley. Knowing her parents’ story gave me a context, to understand what made both of them behave the way they did. It is a touching story of resilience and aspiration. Francie is that tree that grew in Brooklyn – against all odds.

I was amazed that I’ve missed coming by this book for so long. Published in 1943, it’s as timeless as ever. It moved me to tears, it made me laugh, it made me admire people’s resilience. The attitude you would probably find anywhere across the world where people living through hardships try hard to better themselves and make a better life for their children.

I loved the characterization. I have to say though, that I felt Katie got the hard treatment. She ends up shouldering her family’s responsibility, given her husband’s alcoholism, and ends up hard and sometimes unfeeling. She is biased towards Francie, but some part of me, felt for her. Here she was, doing so much, while having so little, and yet she comes across as the cruel one. In circumstances like hers, I suppose one could turn that way. Francie’s weak and yet loveable father, her incorrigible aunt, who was as kind and large-hearted as she was crazy. The narrative so good that you are transported into those slums, feeling the hunger, the pain and the joys…

A wonderful, wonderful book, that will stay with me. And a book that I could re-read again and again. A 5/5 book, for me.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrants, she grew up poor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These experiences served as the framework to her first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).

This book is available on Amazon(UK).

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