"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

04 November 2018

2018 Book Review #35: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


A childhood favorite re-visited.  

I borrowed this book from my youngest girl.  I first read this novel in 1974 when I was 14.  It's one of my very favorite books from my childhood and actually even as an adult.  This time was my 2nd time through the entire book.  It's still a gem.


Francie Nolan (Mary Frances) is a poor, Irish 11 year old girl when the story opens.  The setting is Brooklyn, NY in 1912.  She has 2 parents, Katie and Johnny.  She also has a brother who is two years younger named Cornelius but everyone calls him Neely.

She has a grandmother named  Mary and 2 aunts named Evy and Sissy.

She has a neighborhood full of children and mothers and fathers and poverty, and a school, and a library, and Jewish stores and corner stores and penny candy stores.

It's not really a book with a set plot. 

It's more an awakening of a person....a little girl who by the end of the book blossoms into a young woman of 18 on the verge of going off to college.

It's a coming of age book.

It's filled with love, loss, death, childbirth, stillborn births, pedophiles lurking in hallways, bullying, poverty, alcoholism, war, traditions, city life, education, friendship, first loves, heartbreak, joy, trials and triumphs.

We watch Francie as an 11 year old and then we read about how her parents met.

We see Francie as a little preschooler and then an elementary student.  

We see her get her first job, graduate from junior high, and hope and dream and read and write.

It's all about humanity and finding one's way in the world.

And all the while.....that tree just stands there.  Providing shade and being stalwart.

And when it finally has to be cut down.....and is left a stump....well....

what do you think happens??


This kind of book is one that you can't put down.

I read long into the night and picked it up every time I had a free moment the last 2 weeks.

It's long but it moves so quickly.

It's poignant and deep and rich with meaning.

It's filled with truth and reality and dreams and lies.

It's emotional and endearing.

I like that there's a description of the author's life at the end and you discover that she wrote from her heart with what is most likely her own growing up story.  There are many parallels.

I'm glad I re-read this book as an adult.  I loved it still and of course I know so much more about life now than I did at 14 so it's even more precious to me.

Some favorite passages from the book are:
"...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....." (pg 95, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, c.1943)

"Intolerance," she wrote, pressing down hard on the pencil, "is a thing that causes war, pogroms, crucifixions, lynchings, and makes people cruel to little children and to each other.  It is responsible for most of the viciousness, violence, terror and heart and soul breaking of the world." (pg 229, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, c.1943)

 "Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn't held it tighter when you had it every day.  What had Granma Mary Rommely said? "To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first time or the last time.  Thus is your time on earth filled with glory." (pg 476, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, c. 1943)

"But the tree hadn't died....it hadn't died.  A new tree had grown from the stump and its trunk had grown along the ground until it reached a place where there were no wash lines above it.  Then it has started to grow towards the sky again.........this tree that they built a bonfire around, trying to burn up its stump----this tree lived!  It lived!  And nothing could destroy it. " (pg 493, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, c.1943)

There were other really good passages, but these have stuck with me and have such deep significance and meaning.

 In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 13 and older.

On a scale of 1-10, I rate this a 10.  

And if you've never read it, which I can't imagine if you are a book lover, then do so!  You won't regret it.

1 comment:

Susanne said...

I have wanted to read this for so long. I don't ever recall reading it in school. I finally got a copy and it's sitting in my TBR pile but probably will not get to it until next year now. The days are flying by and busy somehow.