When one imagines the bustling city of New York, it’s almost considered standard for the words ‘diversity’ and ‘freedom’ to tag along. In Betty Smith’s “classic” coming of age novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the story follows a young girl by the name of Francie Nolan as she matures from a naïve dreamer into a sophisticated young woman. The novel depicts the harshness and contrast between the unforgiving city of New York filled with hopeless American Dreamers, and the magic of life itself. Francie’s high strung mother and alcoholic father are constantly reminding her that she will only succeed in the future if she has a better education than her ancestors. But, the uneducated immigrants living in her tenement show her that there is more depth to life than just that of the materialism she is exposed to.
When I began reading, I was first enchanted by Smith’s gripping use of imagery. She describes Brooklyn in such an interesting way that I thought the novel would be one that I was sure to look back upon and think “that book made me rethink my whole life”, or something epiphanic of the sort. Only later on did I realize that the imagery wasn’t even great or amazing, but in comparison to the slow plot-line, it was the only aspect of the book I found somewhat enjoyable to read. Needless to say, I will not be re-reading it any time soon. For one reason, this novel is very much character based. So, if you’re looking for a thriller or anything with a slew of shocking plot twists, this book is DEFINITELY not your cup of tea. The main character is extremely dynamic therefore the focus of the story is watching a young girl transition into adulthood through the unfair experiences life throws at her. I can’t say that I despised this book while reading, but I can definitely say that I don’t understand why it’s dubbed a “classic”. The story was centered around the necessity of perseverance through difficult times, and knowing the difference of morals versus trends. Although this book can be read by anyone due to its universal underlying themes, I think teenage girls specifically may appreciate A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.