Monday, December 31, 2012

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" {by Betty Smith} Book Review

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Number of Pages: 528
Year Published: 1943
PUBLISHER: Harper Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman

SUMMARY: In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith tells the coming of age story of Francie Nolan, who is an innocent and imaginative twelve year old when the book begins. When Francie looks out of her window, she sees a Tree of Heaven growing. The tree seems to grow wherever the poor can be found, even in the Williamsburg tenement neighborhood in Brooklyn. Smith notes that “no matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky.” Like the tree, the Nolan family struggles to make ends meet during the first two decades of the twentieth century. 


GROUP REVIEW:  The majority of our group absolutely adored this sweet story and felt endured to the all the unique characters you get to know as the story of Francie and her family unfolds.  Betty Smith has a beautiful and exquisite way of writing, there were so many quotes throughout the book that touched our hearts and expressed feelings and thoughts so perfectly.  Our discussion was opened with the question of, even though this book was written 70 years ago, it is still relevant to our lives today. In what ways can people living in our busy, modern world, relate to the trails and struggles of these characters living during the early years of the twentieth century?  Libby then lead us in a rich and wonderful discussion to answer that question.  She had divided her presentation into different themes that are woven throughout the tale of the coming of age story of Francie Nolan, that are still themes in the lives of children and adults today:

The Power of Literacy and Education

 “Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.” 

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.” 

This is a huge theme present throughout the entire book.  Katie was so dedicated in educating her children so that they could live more successful lives then she and Johnny did and  Francie was constantly aiming for higher education.  The power of education has only continued to get stronger since the early 20th century, more and more people are aiming for higher education today, and the importance of literacy is being realized more and more everyday.  Francie's ability to read and her education changed her life considerably, in her job for the newspaper, she makes more money then her mother and father put together when they were both working.  It was interesting to see how the idea of getting an education changed and developed with the different generations of Francie's family beginning with her grandmother, Mary Rommely, who was the first in the family to introduce the importance of an education.


 “A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb.

 “Suffering is also good, it makes a person rich in character.” 

 Poverty has been an ever present theme in the history of the world.  It is what shaped the lives of many of the characters in this story, it made them stronger, it strengthened family relationships, they were constantly fighting for survival and aiming for a better lifeWe also discussed how different characters reacted to and treated people in poor circumstances, some showed compassion, some aimed to lift themselves up by putting others down, others wasted their own suffering by shunning and ridiculing others in similar situations. It was interesting to discuss how poverty can have such an effect on everyday interactions.

Money Can't Buy Happiness

“People always think that happiness is a far away thing, something complicated and hard to get. yet, little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains - a cup of strong hot coffee when you're blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you're alone - just to be with someone you love. those little things make happiness.” 

This story is full of the sweetest moments of a family who finds happiness in the simple joys of life.  This is such an important lesson to remember in this fast paced age of technology and instant gratification. We would all be a little happier if we realized that happiness isn't something complicated and hard to get, we all can embrace the beauty of that which surrounds us and thus find happiness.

Growing Up

 “It's come at last," she thought, "the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.... one sunny day, they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you'd give your life to spare them from.” 

 “Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere - be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” 

We could all relate to Francie, since we had all been a child once, full of imagination and expectation, and had experienced many similar experiences that she went through as she learned the lessons of growing up.  We could also all relate to Katie, since most of our group are mothers or aunts who are watching little loved ones grow up and learn what life is all about and wanting nothing more then to help them achieve their dreams and protect them from sadness and heartache. 

There are so many other wonderful themes throughout this book that connect the lives of the characters to the lives of the readers, that is what makes this book so classic and timeless.  I wish we had time to discuss them all and share all the glorious quotes penned by Betty Smith.

Language/ Profanity: Moderate - there is swearing throughout the book, but not enough to be distracting.
Sexuality: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Drug/ Alcohol use: Heavy - Many of the characters drink excessively, discussions about alcohol addiction
Intense/ Scary scenes: Mild - one scary scene with Francie, Katie and the kidnapper


Karen said...

Great review Kitch! I loved the book too and I liked how you've broken it up into themes. Well done!

Kellie H said...

Kitch you are a fabulous blogger and writer. I loved your review. Very thoughtful and all encompassing.