Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

Written by Betty Smith 
Genre/Topics: Fiction, Coming-of-Age 
Published in 1943
512 pages 
 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the beautifully told story about a young girl’s coming-of-age in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1900s. Francie Nolan faces many struggles growing up, but she’s very determined to not let this stop her. Some struggles that face her family are poverty and a father who is often drunk. When Francie is born, her mother, Katie, is told that the key to succeed is an education. Katie instructs her children, Francie and her brother Neeley, to read one page of Shakespeare and a page from the Bible every night. The family has a close relationship and they work together, such as Francie and Neeley collect junk for money that they contribute to the household.

The tree growing in Brooklyn, New York, refers to a tree that grows outside Francie’s bedroom. It is unlike any tree, because it is able to grow through difficult environments. The symbolism is that Francie also is able to grow in any situation. Here is a quote from Francie’s perspective of the tree:

Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.

Francie’s mother feels her children won’t have her struggles, but instead will flourish and become successful in life. Here is a quote from Katie’s perspective as she compares the tree to her children:

Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.

Francie is always curious about her surroundings and the fact that her family struggles with money doesn’t stop her curiosity. She’s fond of books her entire life. She often feels as though she is alone with few girl friends, but her wonder and curiosity takes her places and she’s never truly alone. Here is a quote that describes Francie’s love of books:

Oh magic hour when a child first knows it 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 the second time I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn almost exactly a year ago. I apologize for the lengthy review, but this is one of my favorite books. This time I read the book on my kindle and I’ve never made so many highlights throughout the book that captured my attention. Basically the book is just about a girl and her family making the best of their situation and thriving to succeed, but it feels like so much more than that. I highly recommend this book.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    babyjill7...Marilyn Griffin said:
    July 5, 2012 at 6:08 am

    I’ve always wante to read this…might be a good time to do just that…~mkg

      Caroline responded:
      July 5, 2012 at 10:40 am

      It is a delightful book. Let me know what you think if you decide to read the book. Thanks for stopping by.

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