A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

by Victoria Testa

Lullaby of Broadway!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith isnʼt a novel about a dysfunctional family. It is a lullaby of a quiet corner in the city that never sleeps. It is a lullaby that whispers the joys, hardships, and love of a family that will forever be in my heart.

The story revolves around Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. She is one of the only true Americans on her blocks and is proud of it. Living on little food, Francie quenches her thirst for life through books and school. Her mother is a traditional housewife with a twist of rebellion. Her father is a man as magical and loving as he is drunk, living through a kaleidascope of wonder that he teaches his children to adore.

Everything about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was utterly enchanting. I truly connected with each character. It doesnʼt matter whether youʼre an eager young author, someone who has experienced a tragic loss, or simply someone who loves life, I believe there is a little bit of everyone in Francie Nolan. Everyone has that childlike need to live their dreams in an attempt to escape an imperfect reality. In fact, all of the Smith’s characters are so terrific that it is hard to believe that they are fiction. Their attitude, togetherness, and love are something that every family should strive to imitate. By the end of the novel, I began to miss the family that I had grown up with as if they were my own.

Betty Smithʼs writing is full of wonderful portraits of the place she grew up. She displays the glory of New York City at a time when immigrants poured into America. Her prose make us feel the pride of Francieʼs neighbors when they leave their homeland, and the freedom they felt as their boats docked. Yet, along with these beautiful images, she portrays the struggles of so many people living in the small crowded islands of New York City. Betty Smith shows us the loves and losses of a new nation by painting a picture to rival Picasso.

The chronicle of the Nolans’ life was a truly wonderful and enlightening experience. It is so enchanting to travel alongside the family through their trials and celebrations alike. I will admit to several tear streaked pages and advise anyone who reads this book to have a box of tissues handy. I will end with my favorite part of the book. The tree is growing outside the window as Francie looks out at it for the last time. About the tree, Smith writes: “It lived! And nothing could destroy it.” Those sentences remind me that nothing ever truly dies. Everything and everyone will live on forever in the memory of all who come to love it.

Victoria Testa lives in New York City but is a beach bum at heart. When not writing or reading, she can be found surfing, swimming, and singing!

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