Lately, I've found that I keep mentioning A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith in conversation, and I think it's about time I review it for my blog. Written in 1943, this Classic novel covers events of the early 20th century from the perspective of a young girl named Francie Nolan. Born in a poor Irish family, Francie grows up through family struggle, awkward adolescence, hard work, and endearing hopefulness. It's a beautiful story, and I quickly flew through the pages in captivated interest.
In some ways, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In both stories, readers experience the world through a young girl who demonstrates an equal portion of naivete and maturity in her interactions. However, Smith's novel covers a much larger scope and depth with her characters, spanning several decades and giving insight into several characters' minds. Francie's mother Katie is one of the more significant characters, and she is a wonderful combination of strength, stubbornness, and romanticism that readers can both embrace and pity. Her aunt Sissy is another colorful character, one who gives love so freely that it costs her reputation and breaks her heart. And, of course, there's an interesting dynamic between Francie and her father, a sweet one of a daughter's unadulterated love despite his flaws that nabbed my heart.
Francie's story could easily be described as a "Coming of Age" novel, and I loved following her through the years. Her childish insecurities are never fully overcome, but they convincingly form her in her later years. She is smart and has her mother's stubbornness, but she also has to deal with the hole in her heart that desires to be cherished. Smith weaves through her tale in flashbacks and foreshadowing, but it seamlessly forms a lovely narrative.
There are so many themes in the novel I could address, such as growing up in struggling, grasping one's sexuality, persevering through grief, forming a community, etc. But if I step back and think about the novel as a whole, my primary impression is the disparate ways family members relate with one another. The characters never quite express themselves clearly, and they all show their love in different ways. They are protective of one another and support each other, but they also take advantage of one another. They celebrate in their victories and share in their griefs. Francie is often ostracized and ignored, but deep down she knows of her family's love. At times, she is eager to please, but she also reserves some personal thoughts and feelings tightly in her heart. There is something so realistic about the characters' struggles, flaws, and shortcomings that it makes their loving gestures even more powerful. It's a great book and certainly deserves the status it has achieved as a piece of Classic Literature.