The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.
I probably never would have put this book on my challenge to read list if it hadn’t shown up as a group read in one of my various goodreads groups. But now that I have read it, I can’t believe that I hadn’t before. And come to think of it, I don’t recall even really hearing about it – although apparently it is still used on school reading lists. (My library has all the reading list books separated from the standard YA, so they are easy to find).
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is such a simple tale – the story of Francie growing up in Williamsburg, a part of New York (although every time I see that town name, I think of Williamsburg, VA). She goes through the same trials that most kids do – going to school, dealing with boys, first love, but on top of all that, an alcoholic father and being exceptionally poor. I loved seeing her mother (who some reviews describe as being cruel, although I don’t agree) teaching Francie and her brother about the value of money and saving towards a goal (with the tin cup that they nailed in the cupboard at each house they moved to). Or the love of learning that she inspired in them, through Shakespeare and the bible.
Even now, over 60 years since it was originally written, I can see how kids can relate to the going-ons. Not necessarily the time period specific, but the general themes of growing up and finding your place in the world. Being the sucker that I am for happy endings, I wonder what would happen if a sequel was ever written – What did Francie end up doing with her life – Did she finish going to college? Did she get over her first love and subsequent first heartbreak? But at the same time, I don’t want to know because I can imagine various different endings all I want and a sequel would change that.
This is a book that I would recommend to pretty much anyone, but I do think that teenage girls would enjoy it the most because of the themes and the characters.