Saturday, April 4, 2009

Book Review - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Francie Nolan is a role model for the ages

When I first heard about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I wondered if I would be able to relate to the story of a young girl growing up in the early 1900s. In keeping with my memoir fascination, once I found out that the story was possibly influenced by the real life of Betty Smith, and that she shared the same birthday as the story’s heroine, Francie Nolan, I became more intrigued. In the back of the copy I have there is an article written by Smith’s daughter, about her mother, where she says,

“She was always altering incidents to make them into stories. She often said about ‘Tree’ that she didn’t write it the way it was, but the way it should have been.”
Early 1900s or not, I had no problem relating to Francie, an avid reader of a book a day, who grew up in a household where her mother favoured her brother, and her father was a falling-down drunk. There were a few times where I stumbled on some of the fashion references, like a shoe accessory named ‘Spats,’ and a false shirt called a ‘dickey,’ but with a quick Google search I was in the know and felt as though I had learned something new for the day.

The most important character of the novel, in my opinion, is Mary Rommely, Francie’s maternal grandmother. Mary believes in the importance of an active imagination, and feels that every child needs a place they can go to in their mind when life becomes difficult. Mary asserts her convictions to Francie’s mother, Katie, near the beginning of the novel, and informs her that she must read to her children everyday, and allow them to believe in fantasy worlds such as fairy tales and Kris Kringle. She also assures Katie that through education the cycle of poverty can be broken, as more opportunities will avail themselves to the children with the more knowledge they acquire. It is clear that but for the influence of this insightful woman, Francie may never have become the ambitious and creative dreamer we know her to be.

Part of Francie’s innovative nature could also be attributed to her day dreaming father who forever lived with his head in the clouds. Torn between her father’s romantic world and the hard cold reality as seen through the eyes of her mother, Francie shapes herself into a fine balance of the two. Fortunately she acquires the strength that is common to the women in her family, and this combined with her intelligence and creativity proves to be unstoppable.

You may find this classic in the young-adult section of your bookstore, but I can assure you it is not exclusive to this age group, as there are an abundance of life’s truths, beneficial to all, found throughout. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is inspiring, well written and honest in it’s descriptions of the good and evil that can be found in humanity. The circumstances with which Francie Nolan finds herself are timeless in their portrayal of family, survival and the loss of innocence, and this is one important novel that should be on every bookshelf.

4.5/5 Snakes


  1. I love this book. I've read it a couple times in the last few years.

    BTW - I love spats. The lead singer of my favorite band wore them and continued to wear them for years after the band broke up. I want my own pair. :)

  2. Thanks for the great review...I haven't read this yet, but I think I need to add it to my list!

  3. Amanda...Once I looked spats up I remembered seeing them in movies and such. I like them too, especially some of the more modern ones that I saw from the 80s. They're like a cooler form of leg warmers. I'll have to see if I can find any crochet patterns for them, lol.

    Jo-Jo...Thanks, you should definitely pick it up. I can't wait to share it with my niece when she gets a little older.

  4. Wonderful review! This one has been on my TBR for a very long time.

  5. This has been a favorite book of mine ever since I read it more than ten years ago. I think I've read it four times. Wonderful review.

  6. I don't know why I waited until adulthood to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Now that I have read it, it's one of those books that seems to have been with me my whole life.

  7. What's your real name? I'm doing a research paper and i'd like to include your opinions on this novel. And i need your name to do so.

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