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.
Well, I don’t know where to start… First of all, I have so many complicated feelings about the book… I could say that it is a very good book and I was kind of sad when I turned the last page; yet, I did not have the same feelings until the midway through the book. The main reason is that B. Smith wrote a character-driven book which is a kind of a “slice of life”, though it is not so much ordinary one given the fact that Francie, main character, and her family had to fight with starvation and struggle to live.
The writer takes her time to give all tiny details about the daily life of the family so that readers could feel like a part of it. Indeed, she seems to be very successful in doing so because I have read so many comments on the book about how readers felt sorrow and pain for the family, especially Francie, and even sobbed. This is the proof of writer’s ability to catch readers’ attention. My reservation is that at the beginning I was not really sure whether I should keep up reading or abandon it because it was just boring and it took almost 200 pages to start fully enjoying the book. In other words, it depends on the taste of different readers: Some may not like such an approach and would like to directly get into an instant thrilling plot. Others have no rush to get into what they read.
Francie is a very strongly built character with a great imagination albeit having emotional up-and-downs throughout the book. Other figures of Nolan Family was described and detailed sufficiently enough that readers feels a part of this slice of life. However, there are some daily rituals of Francie that the writer mentions at the beginning of the book and seems to forget about until the very end of it. To illustrate, the writer at the beginning mentions that Francie is such a voracious reader and reads one book per day (from library). One may expect lots of scenes and parts devoted to “what she read in a given day”, “what she experienced in the library” or “which book had a huge impact on her in a given situation”.
Furthermore, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn provides an opportunity to understand American society the first two decades of 20th century. Readers may surprise about customs of the time and the little ghetto of Brooklyn, views on immigrants, image of Germans etc.
All in all, if you like character driven novels, it is a must-read historical fiction. Otherwise, I still recommend you to read it but be patient. It will catch you sooner or later.