Monday, November 21, 2011

Review and Book Club Report: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Book: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: A
For: Book Club
From: I read the library book club set, even though I have my own copy which I have no idea when or where I got it.

This was my third time reading this book.  The first time when I was probably around 14 years old. I liked it then, but didn't "get" much of it. Then I re-read it about 10 years or so ago with an online book group. And I remember thinking, wow, I missed a lot that first time around! Wow, that is really a great book!

This time around, I think I got even more from it... again! I just plain love love love this book.

A quick summary for those who haven't read it yet.... it's about a young girl, Francie, living in poverty in Brooklyn, New York from 1910 or so, to WWI in 1917. It's about her family, and how they cope. It's about her relationship with them... her mother, father and brother. Also her quirky aunts. It's about how she pretty much takes charge of her own education.... how they know that is what will raise their status in life. It's about their hardiness to all the things they face, just like the tree that grows up through the cement there by their house, no matter what happens, it keeps on growing and growing.

Some particular things that stood out to me this time around:

  • reading a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare, every single day
  • trying to read everything in the library from A to Z.
  • giving numbers a personality and creating stories and family situations out of every number pairing or group.
  • making a game (going to the North Pole!) out of having no food or heat
  • observing piano lessons
  • the flowers from her dad! Oh my word, that got me.
  • the initiative to switch schools
  • skipping high school and going straight to college
  • ....and so many other things!
Something I didn't realize on previous readings is how closely this story mirrors the authors own story. It basically IS her story. It's fascinating to me that this "fiction" is really non fiction and someone lived that life.

Bottom line: I LOVED it... again.

We choose this book for book club because surprisingly, no one else had read it yet! What's up with that? So I was very anxious for them to experience this book and hoped so badly that they, too, would all love it. Well, so. That question remains to be answered because only two (three by the time it was over, and she hadn't quite finished the book yet) came to book club this month! Happily, those two said they enjoyed it. They agreed that it was slow moving, and it could be said that nothing happens. But that it didn't matter because the spirit and strength of Francie and the other women in the book proved enough to keep a person reading to the end.

So, hopefully the book club members that couldn't make it this time around were able to read the book anyway and enjoyed it. And if they didn't read the book, I really hope they fit it in another time. 

Up next month for book club: The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt.

Here's a scene from the 1945 movie of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I hope to watch this whole thing some day!


  1. The particular things that stood out to you is what very much stood out to me when I read this book.
    These would be the strong reasons why I want my children to read this book.

    I can see why you have read this book several times. It is one that does deserve a re-read. I will do this, one day.

  2. I adore this book and have always felt Francie would have been a good friend (...if she were real, and all).

    I'll always remember those pennies saved away in the can and the aunt whose babies would have survived if they'd been given the proper medical attention.

  3. I read this book ages ago and really enjoyed it, but I have never got around to rereading it. One day...

  4. Well, I think the book was better than the movie looks.

  5. I need to re read this one. My book club read it a year or two ago and I was pleasantly surprised that they all enjoyed it. I was afraid it would be a bit slow for them.

  6. I have go to re-read this one, I just love it!



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