A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith


It’s not very fun to write a review of a book that is beloved. You either love it and you write a review saying, “Like your big brother and your 11th grade English teacher, I, too, loved Catcher in the Rye” and who cares, or you hate it and you write a review saying, “I don’t really get why people like The Fountainhead.” And who cares?

So, I didn’t read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn looking to review it or even post much about it on here. I was reading it because it’s been on my shelf for too long and it fulfills one of my goals for my Summer Reading Challenge. But this book got under my skin, so I wanted to write a brief post about it.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is about Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Now that I’ve read it I realize how few classics are about a young women’s coming-of-age in the strict definition of the term; so many novels about young women are plain love stories. This is not a love story, it’s a survival story. Francie grows from a poor little girl to a young woman going off to college; in between she is forced to drop out of school to help support her family financially so her brother gets to remain in school. She watches her father deteriorating from alcoholism and her mother struggle to balance motherhood and working in poverty.

The story of Francie’s family is fascinating in its stark realism, in the ways that it deals with how idealistic people can either stubbornly keep on or be ruined in the face of poverty. It’s written in a sparsely beautiful way, only occasionally sentimental. It has the warmheartedness and redemptive qualities a story about growing up in a certain place should have. And what a sense of place this story had. 

While the Brooklyn in this novel is long gone, so many of the themes it touches on are current. Smith writes on issues of sex, childbirth, class, privilege, and disappointing husbands so frankly I wonder why more people don’t call A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a feminist classic.

I think this could easily take the place of Catcher in the Rye in many junior year English classes. Kids would probably hate it just as much, but the English teachers would find so much to discuss. That’s about the highest compliment a classic novel can get, am I right?


Patiently Waiting for Taylor Swift to Write a Concept Album About The Handmaid’s Tale: July 2015 Round up

July, July. It was a very busy month. I saw Taylor Swift live, and I turned 24! This is the last year I will be in my early twenties, so ever since my birthday I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, thinking about how I really need to update my LinkedIn.

I didn’t read as much as I had hoped to, which is becoming a theme. Book bloggers usually love themes, but this is a theme I’m not psyched about, mostly because I am behind in both my Goodreads challenge and my summer reading challenge. Challenges are fun until you start getting behind and then it’s just another thing to wake up panting about in the middle of the night. So let’s not even talk about all that.

The first book I finished in July was This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. I took this book out from the library because I’ve been thinking about maybe potentially starting the process of applying to MLS programs this year. Maybe. Unfortunately, this book is not a great informational resource for anyone thinking about going into library or information science. Honestly, it was a little weird–it was more about the subculture of librarianship, but told from an outsider so that it felt like just a surface glance. There was a weirdly long section about how a lot of librarians play Second Life. So? I guess I didn’t find the writing very compelling, either. So I’m still looking for better resources about the field. I guess I could ask a librarian, the great bearer of resources, but I am bashful!

I also read Prodigy, the second book in the Legend series by Marie Lu. I just looked at my Goodreads list and thought to myself, “I read that?”

I even reviewed it, apparently:

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But I have very little recollection of this event.

And of course I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

After that I read The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson, which is a 2015 release I randomly picked out at the library. I was interested because I haven’t read very much new sci-fi/speculative fiction. I would categorize this as speculative fiction, even though that’s kind of a weird term–but it’s not very space-y so I refuse to call it science fiction, and I wouldn’t quite call it dystopian, because it seems very current, and the society doesn’t seem too unfamiliar or even scarier than the society we already have. It’s an interesting premise, the idea of the social uprising of groups (some would say cults) brought together by social algorithms. I think I didn’t love it because of the same reason I can’t really call it a dystopian novel. Maybe it’s because Wilson’s writing style is quite flat, so the stakes never seem quite so high. I was a little disappointed that the premise didn’t deliver some juicier plot.

Finally, this morning I finished re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I’m still super amped about it. I wish this novel was taught in schools more, honestly. It is so, so good. The Handmaid’s Tale is called speculative fiction a lot, but I like the term dystopian more for it. It is the best dystopian novel I’ve read, and I’m not even going to apologize to George Orwell for that. I could feel the anger heating up the page in this novel. It’s powerful, scathing, and perfectly paced. I’m really excited to read more of Atwood’s later work now. Her writing style gets so much more devour-able when it’s combined with an imaginative plot.

I don’t know how to wrap up this monthly round up except to say that I am planning to read about a million books in August to catch up on my reading goals. I don’t see how this plan could go wrong at all.