Sunday, September 25, 2011

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith, 1943

Years ago, one of the teachers in the building asked me if I had read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. When I told her no, she gasped and told me I must. I had forgotten about it but something led me to buy it on Audible so I could listen to it. (The audio was fantastic and I would highly recommend it.)

It wasn't anything like what I had expected. First, for some reason, I thought it was a book for young adults. It is not. I think every person should read this book at some point in their life but I wouldn't suggest this to students until high school.

Then every time, and I mean EVERY time, I mentioned to someone who had read it themselves, they would gasp and get that look on their face of pure love.  Many of them put their hands to their heart while talking. It's THAT kind of book.

I had no idea that it is a classic right up there with my favorite book of all time, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee. TREE is now in my number two slot. 

It's the writing you notice first, it's just exquisite. I bought a paperback copy so that at some point, I can go back and read it again, highlighting my favorite passages.  A little hard to do when you're listening in the car.

The book starts in 1912, in the tenements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. It is about the Nolan family, a poor Irish-American family just trying to survive. The young daughter, Francie Nolan, 11, is the main character. The details of everyday life are written in such great detail that you feel as if you are living this life with Francie and you root for her every step of the way.

As I started reading this book, I kept thinking, "Really? This book was written in 1943?" It is such a realistic look at how people lived their lives that I've been searching for information on whether it was ever banned. Betty Smith writes in excruciating detail how hard  life was for this family. She never omitted any of the realities. We get the truth, and sometimes truth is much harder than any fiction from someones imagination. You know in your heart that these incidents were real.

I learned a lot about our country through this book and it never felt "preachy". Horrible things that happened that eventually changed our country for the better. It is one of my favorite ways to learn history, through a great book.

I can now imagine that this had to be like how my mother lived in the coal camps of southern Colorado. Very poor, just squeaking by, but able to enjoy life despite everything. Desperate at times but because of the character of the people,  there was always hope and joy.

I was sad, and cried at times while reading this book but I truly don't think I felt depressed. And I believe that's the joy of this book. Hope.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds pretty wonderful, Jean. I honestly don't remember ever reading this though I know I must have - at least while in school.

    Next time I see a copy in a bookstore, I think I'll pick one up just to see if I can remember.

    Loved your review. :)