"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

A friend of mine recently said she had finally gotten around to reading this book, and then exclaimed, "How did I miss this one for so long?!"  I felt the exact same way.  My mom had this book on her bookshelf all the years I was growing up.  I remember the cover distinctly.  Yet, it got passed up year after year.  Occasionally, as I would browse through her books for a new read, I would ask her about it and she would be surprised I hadn't read it yet.  Finally, I found it as a book-on-tape and listened to it on my commute.

This is a story about Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up in a poor area of Brooklyn.  The images Ms. Smith draws of the people in her life and the daily life of early twentieth century city dwellers are strong and memorable.  Like the "Tree of Heaven" which is a hardy tree that grew invasive in the vacant lots of New York City, Francie Nolan flourishes in seemingly inhospitable circumstances.  She has a mother that works hard to support a drunken father, but her father is still and good and kind man.  An illiterate but entertaining aunt who has many men, but cannot have children.  Tough grandparents who immigrated from Germany.  There are myriads of other memorable characters that influence her life and she comes of age.  This book shows, through Francie's eyes, the political and social changes of the time, as well as experiences of war, race relations, immigration, and first love.

Francie is a wonderful narrator of her life, never wallowing in self-pity or getting sappy, just presenting her life for the reader to enjoy and be a part of.  It is a long book, but one would hardly know it because the story draws you in so well that it is hard to put it down.

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