Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Review - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 
Author: Betty Smith
Year: 1943
Page: 493
Genre: Fiction - Classics

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience. 

First Sentence:
Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • Book club read for Feb. However, I did suggest this book (we can all make suggestions, then once a year, we'll each pick our favorite12-15 I think. Then we'll choose the ones with the highest votes to read). I was going to do a Classic read along in blogsphere last year, and this was one of the selections. However, I didn't end up doing the read along, but still want to read one classic (I hardly ever read this genre)
First thought:
  • Definitely character driven, but heart-warming
Cover Art:
  • Seems like there are many different versions. The one I posted was the one I had borrowed. She didn't quite looked like the Francie I had in mind, though I understand the significance of the red roses.
  • Symbolic. 
  • This book was first published in 1943. 99.9% of what I read is contemporary, so the writing style is a bit different
  • Some parts of the book definitely got too descriptive for me (bear in mind I prefer plot-driven novels over character-driven ones, if I must choose)
  • To be honest, there really was not a lot going on... most of it focused on Francie's childhood. It evolved around her family. The story did paint a portrait of what life was like back then (from 1900's onwards)
  • The story was more of a snapshot of what happened in different phrases of Franice's and her family's life
  • Francie was a likable character. You couldn't help but feel for her. What made the most impression on me though was her relationship with her younger brother (by 1 year) Neeley. It was touching when they reminisced about the "olden" days (which might only be 2 years ago, and they were 13yo and 14yo). The part I liked the best was what Francie told the doctor after he gave her vaccination with a dirty arm.
  • I have a love-dislike relationship with Francie's parents, Katie and John. They each had admirable characteristics, but then they also had some qualities I couldn't quite stand. But I suppose the imperfection made them more real
  • I liked that Francie's maternal grandmother offered little pieces of wisdom (to her best knowledge anyway)
  • Francie's aunts Sissy and Evie also played an important role in her life, and they were good supporting characters
  • The characters that were the weakest I think were Lee and Ben. They just didn't have the same dept as the other characters, probably because not as much were written about them, and yet they were both significant to Francie. Oh and I didn't like her new English teacher too! Though I thought she was really doing her best...
  • Rather predictable... I had to remind myself that this is not a mystery thriller with twits and turns.
  • Francie was a reader, so as a book lover you couldn't help but cheered her on and felt her heartache. She definitely was mature for her age. Sometimes her parents might not make the fairest decisions, but she soldiered on, and never took it out of anyone. She'd rationalized it. The most touching moments were between Francie and brother Neeley later on in the book
What I Learned:
  • I am glad I didn't live in that era!
  • Since I prefer plot-driver over character-driven novels, I wish more happened in this book. While the characters were well developed, and you get a sense of life back then, I just wish there was a bit more action and suspense to make it more engaging. I don't regret reading it, so now at least I know what others are talking about. I could see others loving it, but this is just not my genre.
Read this Author again?
  • Not sure... 

"Francie is entitled to one cup each meal like the rest. If it makes her feel better to throw it way rather than to drink it, all right. I think it's good that people like us can waste something once in a while and get the feeling of how it would be to have lots of money and not have to worry about scrounging." (p16)

The difference was that Flossie Gaddis was starved about men and Sissy was healthily hungry about them. And what a difference that made. (p30)

"the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that tshe believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination."
"The child will grow up and find out things for herself. She will know that I lied. She will be disappointed."
"That is what is called learning the truth. It is a good thing to learn the truth one's self. To first believe with all your heart, and the not to believe, is good too. It fattens the emotions and makes them stretch. When as a woman life and people disappoint her, she will have had practice in disappointment and it will not come so hard. In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character." (p77)

"Maybe," thought Francie, "she doesn't love me as much as she loves Neeley. But she needs me more than she needs him and I guess being needed is almost as good as being loved. Maybe better." (p294)

What had granma Mary Rommely said? "To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory." (p415)

Overall Rating: 
3.5 Stars. Not my genre, but not bad.

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  1. This is one of my favorite books, but yeah, it's pretty slow.

  2. This is on my wishlist! I don't mind if it's slow so long as the journey is worthwhile. I will have to read this sometime.