A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads: "The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness - in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience."

Some books are like chocolate cake, that rich flourless kind from too-expensive Italian restaurants; you can eat it, but it takes a while because you're busy trying to muffle moans of delight as you nibble down tiny bites. (Tiny bites because it would just be too much digested at once.)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of these books. Honestly, it took me close to 100 pages to really get into it, but I finally figured out the trick: it's 100% character driven. You know, like those old books used to be before they threw in ghosts and sparkly vampires. So the thing to do is not wait for the supernatural beastie of the day to come knocking on your window in the middle of the night. No, the thing to do is to sit back and enjoy this exquisitely crafted flourless chocolate cake book.

The nuance with which the story is told is lovely. Francie is the perfect picture of the unreliable narrator in her youth as she's thrown into situations where she sees and hears things she doesn't understand - but the close reader will. And then as she grows older, her unique perspective on the world will draw you in until you care - a lot - about what happens to Francie and her family, including even her charming but alcoholic father.

Published in 1943, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of those undeniably timeless books. The prose is fantastic, simply said and eminently quotable. For every girl who thirsts for knowledge (and books), and who has the patience to sit and soak in the story of the Nolan family.

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