There is something so comforting about reading a book written decades ago. You are immediately transported back to a simpler time, but so much of the themes are still relevant today. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith transported me to 1910 Brooklyn, where young Francie Nolan is learning about the world and how she fits into it. I took my time reading this one. I was in no hurry to rush through and finish and enjoyed my little time travel experiences when I picked it up each day. Written in the mid-1940s, this book has stood the testament of time and is a true modern-day classic.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a historical fiction, character driven coming-of-age novel where it seems like not a whole lot happens, but in reality, an entire life is lived. A life full of trials and tribulations, and a young girl finding her way. I love character driven novels if they are based around a fictional character who is easy to fall in love with and that is exactly how I would describe Francie Nolan. She is precocious, curious, tenacious and bright. Francie marches to the beat of her own drum and is dedicated to her little family. The Nolans don't have much, but they have each other. Francie's father is a dreamer, but alcohol has a grasp on him. Meanwhile, Francie's mother works overtime cleaning the other apartments in their building to provide for the family. Some nights, there is not food on the table or coal to heat the apartment. But Francie keeps her head down, works hard at school, gets a job at a young age to support her family and never stops dreaming. A tree growing in a concrete jungle like Brooklyn is a metaphor for Francie rising above her station in life and obtaining the "American Dream."
It is interesting reading a book like this over 100 years after it takes place and over 60 years after it is written. There are racist comments that will make you cringe, as well as aspects of this story that are filled with privilege (I can't help but wonder how Francie's life would have been if she was a young Black girl.) But there is something to appreciate with an old book like this. Much of the themes: poverty, classism, racism, addiction is highly prevalent today. It is a bit depressing if you think about how while so much has change, also nothing has changed. Much of Francie's story still occurs and many of us can relate to some aspect of her story.
I really loved this novel and have enjoyed reading #backlist books like this. Next up, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini!
Content warnings: racism, alcoholism, death of a loved one
“The world was hers for the reading.”
“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.”