I recently finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It’s our book of the month for the book club I’m in.
It’s a story about a girl growing up in Brooklyn after the turn of the century. Her family is quite poor, often not having enough to eat for days. The book describes in detail life of the struggling, immigrant poor at this time in a city. How they bought bread and meat. How they scraped together money. How the children spent their time.
The book mostly follows around Francie Nolan from birth until she is seventeen. Her mother works hard and usually has a steady cleaning job that doesn’t pay much. She is centered on providing for her family. Her father is more of a dreamer and has little concern for having a steady job to take care of his family. When he does get sporadic work and money, he drinks half of it away. He is a likable fellow though and truly loves his wife and children. He just doesn’t really know how to take care of them. The mother knew this when she married him but also knew she would do most anything to have him.
Francie is a smart girl who develops her own opinions. Like her mother she has an inner strength to be a survivor. She loves to read and loves to learn. She has nothing monetarily but she and her brother are quite happy and seem to have a good childhood in spite of their circumstances. I think that because they have the love of both parents, their childhood is good.
Fittingly, the story wraps up with the family moving away from Brooklyn and their circumstances improved.
For me the book seemed to start out slow and without a clear purpose. I had a hard time connecting with the characters. If it were not for needing to read it for book club, I would have set it down and not picked it up again until it was time to return it to the library. But because I was forced to continue to read, I did eventually connect with the characters and care about their well being.
Even though it’s a classic, it’s not a book I’m excited about, but I’m glad I finished it.
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