Monday, February 20, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Publisher: Blakiston Company by special permission with Harper & Brothers.
Copyright: 1943

Poverty is the story told by 11-year-old, Francie Nolan, about her life in a 1912 tenement building, Brooklyn, NY.  The frontispiece has verse about the tree that grows where poor people live.  Below are pics, the second one showing the tree verse which seems to be the metaphor of the book.  I included the pages below just to show an example of the great effort it was just to have food, yet Francie's youthful resiliency makes this a page-turner.  

The writing transcends time even though it was written in the '40's about 1912, maybe because suffering has no time limit.  Smith surprises the reader by showing kindness strolling alongside grit.  She didn't clean it up; so this isn't a New York "Little House on the Prairie."   Francie and her brother, Neeley, were called ragpickers, though many children did this to help the family.  Their mother was a "janitress," so they got dibs on their tenement's garbage.  The "junkie" paid: 
1 cent for 10 lbs. of paper
2 cents for 1 lb. of rags 
4 cents for 1lb. of iron
10 cents for 1lb. of copper
They dragged whatever they found on a piece of burlap since they didn't have a wagon.  Girls got an extra penny if they let him pinch their cheeks. 

When they didn't have any food, their mother invented a game where they pretended they were on safari and it was too dangerous to stop and eat.  This only worked when they were little, of course.  As I read, I was keenly aware of our warm radiators, the fully-stocked kitchen, the clothes, and all the other things I take for granted.

With great empathy and through the father, aunts, and neighbors White presents the bitter realities of  alcoholism, racism, prostitution, starvation, etc.  In addition to these hardships, there is a rapist somewhere in one of the buildings in Francie's neighborhood.  

Hard as life is at times Francie knows her father and mother love her.  She has extended family who are warm and funny.  Watch Francie's love of reading and the library link her to her future.

It's 31 steps to the attic and this book was worth every one!  

I've sold my volume, but check, or Amazon, or Ebay.  It's great to have.  I'm having seller's remorse.

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