An Old New Favorite!

For the longest time when asked what my favorite book is, I've replied with The Mayor Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. It's a wonderful book, well-written with an interesting message to readers. However, I think I now have a new favorite.

I did not expect this whatsoever. I didn't see it coming...but my new favorite book of all time is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It was required reading for my young adult literature class and I quickly fell in love with the quiet, simplicity of the story and Smith's writing style. The New York Public Library has selected the novel as one of the Books of the Century and I'd have to agree with them.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn focuses on the story of Francie Nolan, her family, and her neighborhood as she grows up in a poor part of Brooklyn during the Early 20th century.  Betty Smith really does an amazing job of illustrating the simplicity, sadness, and joy of human life. Symbolically, Smith describes this in the very first chapter: "The one tree in Francie's yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts."

To be honest the novel doesn't follow a typical plot or timeline. We learn about the characters as the author reveals brief episodes that occurred in their lives, giving us small facts on which to base our understanding and simple events that further a small plot line. Many of the passages talk about the difficulty of struggling through life in poverty, loss, death, sickness and disappointment. However, it is mixed, like with any life, with joy, happiness, the simple things that make life worth living. We feel the sadness, happiness, and struggles of all the characters and feel as though we can relate to at least parts of their life experiences.

Because of the simplicity of the plot and the ease with which readers can relate to the characters, I felt instantly drawn into this small Brooklyn neighborhood. I highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and anyone willing to see their own life in a new way.


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