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Howdy Reading Buddies! How did you like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith? I must admit, I’ve only been reading it at bedtime and am still 50 pages from the end. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish tonight. Feel free to discuss the end, though, if you’d like!

Overall, I’ve enjoyed this reread. As I mentioned in our discussion, I hardly remembered anything from my first time through A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a young teen, but the general sense I got from the book both times felt the same. I mentioned in my earlier post that at the novel’s start, instead of being closer to Francie’s age I was now closer to Katie’s. It’s funny, but as Francie started to grow up, went out into the so-called real world and started to act less like a kid, I found myself again identifying with her more than with Katie, despite our age gap.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (cover)I think one of my favorite parts about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is how well Smith captured the relationships between the Nolan parents and their children. I think it’s very perceptive of Francie to have figured out that she and Katie are too similar, that Katie loves Neeley differently and perhaps more, for example. These dynamics, along with the inner monologues Smith occasionally provided for her characters (Katie in at the ice cream shop graduation party comes to mind), gave a depth to the Nolans and did much to really bring them to life.

I also enjoyed the series of vignettes that makes up the novel. Instead of following a smooth, linear path, reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is like dropping in on a succession of short scenes separated by temporal jumps of varying lengths. Despite all the hopping, though, I didn’t feel like the narrative was choppy — a feat I found impressive on the part of the author.

I can see why some feel Smith can get a little preachy. In this particular novel, that style didn’t get to me, as it seemed somehow to meld with the characters and their situations. But, I can imagine where it could get out of hand in a different narrative setting. I have Joy in the Morning on my shelf and plan to give it a try at some point.

What were your thoughts on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Do tell! If you posted about the book on your own blog, please leave a link in the comments so I can check it out. Oh — and be sure to vote for May’s book if you haven’t done so! It’s our closest poll to date!

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  1. I loved this book, and thought it was brilliant, but so sad and dark. There was just so much that I shook my head in sorrow over, but I loved Francie’s strength and her ability to push through for a better life. The book was pure genius, but it was also emotionally rough. I think you bring up some great points about relating to different characters depending on your age. I am so glad that you loved this one!

  2. I wish I’d been able to read this book with you. I am definitely going to read it again at some point because I think I would get a lot out of it that I didn’t get when I read it as a young teenager. I remember liking Francie a lot and rooting for her. I know she has a difficult life at times and really struggles but it sounds as if she succeeds, too. I also recall a good relationship between the parents and their kids and being impressed with that.

    I am going to make a note next to this book on my wishlist to come back and read your post once I’ve read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

    I hope you enjoy the ending Erin!

  3. I also finished reading it at the last minute, staying up quite late the night before last because I couldn’t put it down 🙂 I think you make a really good point about how impressive it is that the jumping between scenes doesn’t get choppy. I think the division of the book into sections helped a lot, especially at the beginning when she suddenly jumps to talking about the history of both sides if Francie’s family. Thanks for organizing the group read; I really enjoyed it!

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