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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Modern Classics) Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 30, 2006
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Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She is her father's child--romantic and hungry for beauty. But she is her mother's child, too--deeply practical and in constant need of truth. Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive. Betty Smith's poignant, honest novel created a big stir when it was first published over 50 years ago. Her frank writing about life's squalor was alarming to some of the more genteel society, but the book's humor and pathos ensured its place in the realm of classics--and in the hearts of readers, young and old. (Ages 10 and older) --Emilie Coulter --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“A profoundly moving novel, and an honest and true one. It cuts right to the heart of life. . . . If you miss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you will deny yourself a rich experience.” (New York Times)
“One of the most dearly beloved and one of the finest books of our day.” (Orville Prescott)
“One of the books of the Century.” (New York Public Library)
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Top Customer Reviews
The reader first meets Francie at age 11 when, as an inquisitive young girl, her favorite time of the day is on Saturday when she can go to the library then rush home with her treasure and read the afternoon away on the fire escape of her Brooklyn tenement. As a young girl, she feels "rich" when she receives bits of chalk and stubby pencils her mother and father bring home from their janitoring job at a local school. She finds simple pleasures in her life, like being allowed to sleep in the front room on Saturday night and watch the busy street below. You will ache to go back in time and be Francie's best friend as she battles loneliness and rejection by her peers but learns to live a solitary life. But, like the tree, she is ready to burst into bloom and when she does it is beautiful to read about.
This book is a wonderful description of life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn and a strong statement on the hope offered to the immigrants who came to the United States. The story emphasizes quite clearly the value of reading and a good education, but most importantly the strength of family and the dreams that sustain people. As Francie learns, "there had to be the dark and muddy waters so that the sun could have something to background it flashing glory." Young teens and mature women alike will relish Francie's story and hold its message in their hearts forever.
If you're a fan of plot-driven novels, this probably isn't going to be the book for you. Nothing much really happens...two young people, the children of Irish and German immigrants, meet, fall in love, and marry. They have two children, a girl and a boy. The father, Johnny Nolan, is charming and sweet-natured but fundamentally weak, incapable of holding down a steady job because of his alcoholism. The mother, Katie Nolan, is strong-willed, hard-working and tries but fails to hide her preference for her son over her daughter. The family lives in poverty, barely scraping by, as the children grow up. Francie, the daughter, is the center of the story, and the plot is largely about her poor but otherwise mostly unremarkable childhood.
But for me personally, I didn't even really notice that there was less in the way of plot, because the characterization and quality of writing were so strong. The shy and bookish yet resilient Francie and her world were apparently an only thinly veiled version of author Betty Smith's own childhood experiences, and a feeling of lived emotional truth resonates throughout the novel. Smith's prose isn't showily beautiful like Vladimir Nabakov's, but she strikes home keen insights about childhood and growing up with elegance and sensitivity. The characters are all people that exist in the real world: the good-natured and lovable but ultimately feckless overgrown child, the harried parent who has to stay strong enough to keep it all together at the expense of their own emotional wants and needs, the standoffish person who holds themself apart and pre-rejects everyone else before they can be rejected, the younger sibling who manages to get away with more than the older sibling would have ever thought to try. It may be set 100 years ago, but the story it tells is still meaningful today.