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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith, in her novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, weaves together the perspectives of an American family about one hundred years ago. This book was a mind opener for me, and I would definitely recommend it to any mature adult who knows what he or she believes in.

Although I am a conservative person (maybe getting more conservative every day), I do believe in the poverty cycle as a force that cannot always be over come by the American Dream. Although I have not experienced poverty first hand, I think we are too quick to say "work harder" or "spend your money differently" to those in need. This book takes a peek into social class issues, European racial issues, and even just people issues that occurred around 1910, but it turns out, many of these "issues" as still prevalent today, maybe in a new skin, but still very much alive.

But then again, this book not only lends a lens today humanity today, but digs into life right after the turn of the century, the ideas that sprung up, that died, that carried on. The acculturation, or possibly assimilation, that immigrants must experience upon entering the melange of America, and how that trickles out among second and third generations, how family culture and the culture of Manhattan blend or veer apart - what's more is the families of this novel are German and Irish, races that are now a part of most people's schema of America (although I have to add in that the American race should not be looked at as white or European, but a beautiful blend of many other cultures as well: these "other" races should not be seen as an separate other, but as a part of the whole, an important part of the true picture of America).

Nearing the last few chapters, I was longing for this book to never end. I wanted to follow Francy's story further. I wanted to know if she lost her Brooklyn accent, who does she marry, what happens to Neeley? But I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. I has many "mature scenes" including an almost-rape, adultery, and the main character regretting saying no to losing her virginity. Nothing, I felt, was disrespectful or crass, but I know I would not put this book in the hands of one of my eight graders. The themes are really beyond their years anyway.

I will admit, at parts, the beginning was a bit slow, but now I am missing the story and the characters like you miss an old friend who has moved away and lived a bit since you saw her last. I actually listened to it on CD and enjoyed how the reader imitated many different accents. If you want to fall into a different life, learn more about people and humanity, or just become more well read, I recommend this book. It's a charm.

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