Before I started blogging a few years ago, I was a firm believer in “the classics are not for me”. But I’ve started to come around, and now that I’ve read several classics that I’ve liked or even loved (and several I’ve hated, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete convert here!), I find myself more in the “I like some classics” camp. Which is a huge step for me! (So be proud, Eva and Nymeth!) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one example of this – I LOVED this book. I cannot believe it took me twenty-six years of my life to discover my love for it!
In case you are unfamiliar with this novel, it is about Francie Nolan and her family, and it is set in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. We meet Francie when she is eleven years old in 1912, and the story continues through her sixteenth year. Francie’s family is poor – her mother is a maid, who works tirelessly every day to put food on the table for her family, and her father is a singing waiter who works when he is sober enough to get a night’s pay. So Francie and her brother, Neeley, one year younger, learn the hard way just how tough the world is – but they also learn life’s simple pleasures and what beauty lies in the small things.
There are SO many wonderful things about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie is such a great character, she is worldly and smart, wise beyond her years but also appropriate for the time period she was written in. AND she is a reader too! The chapter where Francie’s local library was described was like heaven to me. I loved reading about how much she loved to read, about how she planned to read the entire selection of books her library carried, in alphabetical order, one book a day until she was finished. Totally reminds me of myself when I was a kid – books were my comfort, as they are to Francie. In hard times, she curls up and reads a book, the same thing I would do when I was facing difficult times as a kid.
And there’s quite a bit of feminism in this novel – Katie, Francie’s mother, basically is the sole earner in the home, and she bears this burden without an ounce of complaint. She does what she has to do to get her family fed and taken care of properly, performing back-breaking labor every day because she would do anything to take care of her children. She raises Francie and Neeley to be honest, good people and treats them with respect, even asking their opinions on important family matters at times. When they ask her questions, she gives the most honest answers she knows how, which was something I loved about her. So many parents try to sugar-coat things, or tell their children what they think they want to hear, but not Katie – she told them the truth as she knew it.
I don’t know what else to say about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – I really loved it so much, the entire novel, everything about it just captivated and charmed me. I think I’ll be rereading this one in the near future, because honestly, when I finished it I just wanted to turn it over and start it again! If you’re like me and haven’t yet discovered this gem of a novel, read it. It is such a beautiful, perfect novel. LOVE.