This is a timeless and beautiful book, that for whatever reason, I have failed to read until now. And despite it being written nearly 80 years ago, the story remains captivating, graceful and engaging. Here is my book review A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
This coming of age story is largely autobiographical as the protagonist, a young girl named Francie and her family, are based on the author herself. We meet Francie in 1912 when she is eleven years old. Living in Williamsburg, a tenement neighborhood in Brooklyn. Life is very difficult for Francie and her family; Mother Katie a house cleaner is the family breadwinner; father Johnny sings in a restaurant but drinks away most of his earnings; and ten-year-old brother Neely is one of Francie’s only friends.
Francie is intelligent but shy and her families circumstances make it difficult for her to make friends or do well in school. Francie escapes through books and reads everything she can. She also releases much of her pent up imagination through writing.
Smith writes the family story jumping between present day (starting in 1912) and back to the early days of courtship of Johnny and Katie. Francie loves her father dearly, and senses her mother loves her brother more than her. But Katie realizes how smart and independent Francie is, and so leans more love Neely’s way.
Francie and Neely both leave school to help support the family. Alcoholism eventually takes the life of Johnny, just before Katie learns she is pregnant with a third child.
Francie wants to finish high school and go to college and have a boyfriend, but life is so hard for her and her family and leaving Brooklyn seems like an impossible dream.
Throughout the book the reader will be drawn effortlessly into the deep feelings and emotions of these characters, and particularly the young girl Francie who goes from age 11 to age 17 – from a child to a young woman. Francie represents an entire generation of young girls like herself, whose 2nd generation immigrant parents give them everything the can for a better life.
Betty Smith should have had a Pulitzer for this exquisite book. I loved it. It’s not too late to read this American masterpiece. Thanks for reading my book review A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
See last week’s review The Candy House by Jennifer Eagan.
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