Wednesday, July 28, 2010
A Coming of Age Story: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
What’s not to love about a little girl who comes from an immigrant family that’s mostly illiterate, whose mother learned to read so she could read the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare to her children every day while they were growing up even though she didn’t understand a word she read? What’s not to like about this little girl who spends her free time in libraries and wants little more than to earn her college degree before actually going to high school? I finished reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a few days ago and I think it’s safe to say it was one of the best books I read in a long time.
While working at Borders, I passed the book on the shelf pretty much every day and the title always caught my attention. I didn’t know anything about the book. It’s pretty thick, about 500 pages, and sometimes the sizes of books catch my attention, too. I found the copy I read at the Simpson Public Library sale a few weeks ago, the 1992 HarperPerennial paperback version. The back cover gives a few short reviews, but only one line of back cover copy: “The American classic about a young girl’s coming of age at the turn of the century.”
I like a good coming of age story, don’t you? The book follows the life of Francie Nolan, a girl from a poor family with an alcoholic father in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn, from age 11 to 16 and provides back story from the time her parents met, and a little bit of her grandparents’ histories.
A few of the reviews I read on Amazon.com said things like the book had a lot of character development but no plot, no villains, no direction. The reviewers made these comments like they were negative aspects of the story! I enjoy stories that have enough conflict to sustain them without having to look towards a “villain” for conflict. In my opinion, Francie’s character development was the plot. Some people just don’t appreciate good literature. Such a shame.
At the back of the book was a brief two page report about the book’s reception in 1943, which was generally a very favorable reception. I wrote more about this and compared it to recent reviews on the Examiner, so be sure to check it out.