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Welcome, Reading Buddies! Before we get into A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, please take a moment to vote for your May pick over in the sidebar. The numbers are neck and neck (and neck), so if you haven’t voted, definitely chime in!

It’s been slow going for me this month, not because of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn itself but because of limited reading time. I tried listening to the recording my library had, but the narration was so wooden and clashed so badly with the feel of the novel that I had to stop! I’ve just reached Chapter XIX. Feel free to discuss any part of the book, though.

Let’s start off with a bit about Betty Smith (I typed “Betty White” first…I must be tired!) from lovely Wikipedia. She was born toward the end of 1896 and spent her childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is where her inspiration for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn arose. Published in 1943, our current Reading Buddies pick was Smith’s first novel; she went on to publish three more. She married, had two daughters, divorced, and remarried, living to be 75.

Fun fact: did you know A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was adapted to be a musical??? That’s news to me! In fact, Smith had dramatic training and co-authored the book to the 1951 musical adaptation.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (cover)When I first started (re)reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn earlier this month, I had a “whoa!” moment. When I read the book the first time as a young teen, I was closer to Francie’s age. This time around, I’m basically Katie’s. I hardly remember a thing about my initial reading, but I’m 100% sure I saw the book differently then than I do now!

I vaguely remember being very wrapped up in Francie during my first reading, probably because she was the character whose time in life most closely matched my own. I find myself savoring the tiny tender and bittersweet moments this time through I’m sure I missed the first time: the way Katie reads the two pages to her kids every day because her mother told her she must, how she cannot bring herself to accompany Francie and Neely to receive their vaccinations, how Johnny cares for Francie’s infected arm. Smith has a glorious knack for infusing humanity into the most basic level of her story.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book, which basically follows Francie through a Saturday’s worth of activities. I loved all the details, from how much each item cost and what each meal involved to the unspoken rules and routines. And when Francie takes up her perch “in” the tree to read — I found myself dreaming I had my own such spot!

I can’t quite put into words Smith’s writing style. It strikes me as straightforward, immediate, and no-nonsense, and yet through it she expresses so much. It took me a few chapters to settle into it, but I think it matches the story and its characters beautifully. I’ve not read anything else by Smith, but I’m curious whether it really is her writing style or just the tone she chose for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

So, how are you enjoying A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith?

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  1. I read this one last year, and felt so sad after finishing it. It was just a beautiful story, but some of the situations that went on during that time period for those who were not well-off were really upsetting to me. Francie is indeed an inspirational character, but for some reason, this book made me feel so heavy-hearted at times.

  2. I’ve only read one other book by her, and it was very pedantic and moralistic in tone. I can see that a little bit in this book now that I’ve read the other, but I think Tree is just structured better. I love Katie. She reminds me a lot of my own mother, in many ways.

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