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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Molly Kane, Head of Teen Services and Emerging Technologies

A_Tree_Grows_in_BrooklynTitle & Author : A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Genre: Adult Fiction
Publisher: eBook via Overdrive
Book Challenge Category: A book that you should have read in school
Description: 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.

Review: I can’t explain why I never read this book despite four years as a public high school students, five years as a lit major at Penn Sate, and eight years as a high school English teacher, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I recognized the title, of course, but I would have been hard-pressed to tell you what it was about. I decided to read it for exactly that reason – I didn’t know anything about it and thought I probably should. I am surprised not only by how much I liked it, but also by how relevant and universal it remains. It does, as they say, “hold up” despite the fact that the story is set, in part, in 1916, a hundred years ago.

The story takes place over the course of six years in the life of an Irish girl named Francie living in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn at the turn of last century. Smith writes about Francie’s life in exhaustive detail. The focus on the smallest details gives it a rich and interesting historical perspective, although I can understand why some readers have called it “boring.” The narrative thread isn’t as important individual scenes, so it’s a fair critique to say that “not much happens.” Personally, I enjoyed all of the detail. I was especially fascinated by Francie’s job as a newspaper reader. Each day, she would take the train across the Brooklyn bridge to an office where she sat at a long table reading newspapers, cutting out articles that mentioned specific clients, and filing them in large envelopes. She was, in essence, the human version of my Google Alerts except that instead of searching the internet for mentions of UDPL and sending them to my email inbox, Francie would collect the articles by hand and mail them!

I really enjoyed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My favorite chapter dealt with an ill-fated rowboat trip, a frilly dress worn by Little Tilly, and fish bought, not caught!

Two challenge books down, ten to go!