A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This book has been in my “to read” pile for a long time.
I had heard of, I had heard good things about it, I knew it was an important book in terms of literature and such….
Heck, I even referenced it in an article I wrote about a tree dedication a few years back.
But I had never read it.
What a mistake to wait!
This book was excellent. The writing style is classic, at once easy to read but full of gems of prose not often found in contemporary lit. The characters were well rounded and full of life. The description of New York in the 19-teens is beautifully done. It captures the mundane bits of everyday stuff that adds up to a life of memories and holds these fragile moments of time up to the light to be studied.
Yes, there is symbolism. Yes there is metaphor and prose that could be dissected in literature classes. But there is also a story, a compellingly simple story, of a girl growing up in Brooklyn and a more complicated story of the American dream acted out in perfection by the tragedies and achievements of her family.
Nestled in the stories of the family members, allagories and character sketches alike, are tiny chapters that shine like unexpected treasures.
Such as Chapter 22 in which Smith shows us Frannie growing up, discovering books but also showing us how her imagination still personifies numbers (making them into little families in her sums). The juxtaposition is perfectly balanced. Frannie, on the cusp of reading, a pastime which will shape her life, is still a little girl full of dreams and a child’s sweet innocence. If there was a doubt in the reader’s mind that Frannie is something special, a tree growing where no one expects it to and then thriving on the dirty concrete in a tenement yard, this chapter makes it crystal clear with examples that resonate with subtle meaning.
A triumph of literature, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a wonderful book that I highly recommend. It is well worth the time (a bit long for some readers is isn’t a book one would want to skim.