Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Posted on Jun 11, 2010 in reading | 0 comments

Over a year ago, I finished the classic memoir A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Even then, I had my sights set on a blog about writing and reading, so I wrote a short book review with the hope that I’d be able to post it one day. And sure enough, I now have a blog, so here is a short glimpse of this fantastic memoir.

If you like a good memoir (a story about the author’s life, written like a novel), you should pick up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (pseudonym for Elizabeth Wehner). The story is set in Brooklyn in the early twentieth century and reflects on the growing-up years of an 11-year-old girl named Francie Nolan. Francie’s parents are both second-generation immigrants—her mother is Austrian and her father is Irish—and as such, they are faced with enormous challenges (i.e., poverty, alcoholism) as they struggle to reach their American Dream.

Although the book has its slow points (especially at the start) and may seem a bit tangential at times (it’s certainly more character-driven than plot-driven), I was surprised at how much I fell in love with the characters and appreciated the overall message of the book. On the surface, the story presents a genuinely simple perspective on life, as seen through the eyes of a child. But as you work deeper into the book, your eyes are opened to the true character of the people you are reading about—a character that easily translates to humanity as a whole.

There is such raw emotion—of hope, truth, beauty, a desperation to live—in this story, all set beautifully against a background of challenges, suffering, and grief, that you just can’t help but appreciate the book and desire for even a fraction of the courage these characters exhibit.

It’s this kind of commentary on the human experience that draws me to memoirs again and again. After I put the book down for the last time, I was amazed at how much my perspective on life had shifted. I truly saw life in all its color! I had a strong desire to view every moment as a gift—to really LIVE life, to open my eyes to its colors and textures and smells. More than anything, it gave me a huge appreciation for the things I have and a desire to work harder and think more positively in everything I do. Who can’t benefit from a perspective like that?

I truly appreciate what I learned from this book. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone who would like a bit of honest perspective on life and what matters most.

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