This last month was my first time participating in the Reading Buddies discussion run by Erin Reads and I’m already looking forward to next month’s read! The adult fiction books which seem to be popular in the discussions she leads are definitely outside my usual reading bubble and at least with this first book, I really enjoyed that. The March read was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. When I first started carrying this book around to read I was worried someone would ask me what it was about because I wasn’t really sure how to sum it up nicely. Then I looked up the genre for my genre-based reading challenges and discovered the wonderful German word, “Bildungsroman”, meaning a coming-of-age novel (or directly translated “formation novel”). It makes me happy that there’s a word that so precisely describes what this book is about.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows Francie Nolan as she grows up in Boston as part of a poor, second-generation, American family. A major theme running throughout the book is Francie’s mother’s focus on seeing her children educated and giving them a better life than she herself had. Francie’s own love of reading and education was to me one of the most endearing parts of the novel. As a bibliophile, it’s hard not to fall in love with a precocious little girl who’s decided to read through every book in her library – what she thinks is every book in the world. This is a small spoiler, but I think the fact that Francie eventually got her education was crucial to my enjoyment of the book. I’m someone who prefers happy endings any way and to have someone so in love with learning be stuck working menial jobs forever would have just been too heart breaking.
I also loved Francie, and the author, for their interesting observations about people. I found the spark notes chapter-by-chapter analysis actually talked a lot about these observations and the larger themes the author was trying to convey and ended up reading that commentary along with the book. Although some of the more literary among you might turn your nose up at the use of spark notes, I would highly recommend them. Not instead of the book of course (sacrilege!) but as a supplement to make you take a step back and think about the bigger issues addressed in the book.
The story flowed very nicely, so much so that I had trouble putting it down, and I loved the authors writing style from the very first page. As our host Erin wrote, the author’s tone is “straightforward, immediate, and no-nonsense, and yet through it she expresses so much.” Although I agreed with Erin, this almost seemed like a contradiction to me – how could the book be so matter-of-fact and yet so engaging? For me, I think the answer is that the book is about human nature and life. There are beautiful bits, moving bit, sad bits, and heart-warmingly happy bits. And while they’re all presented matter-of-factly as just part of life, they are no less beautiful, moving, sad or heart-warmingly happy because of that.
Finally, here is one of my favorite quotes: (Francie’s grandmother’s giving advice to her mother)
|“Oh, and you must not forget the Kris Kringle. The child must believe in him until the age of six.” … “Why? When I, myself, do not believe?” “Because”, explained Mary Rommely simply, “the child must have a valuable thing called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe.”…”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.”|