A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, fell into my hands at a time when I needed it most (though I sometimes wish that I’d started reading it even sooner). It had the unique quality of making a bookish girl feel as though she’d found a new best friend (fictional though Francie Nolan obviously is).

And, I’m not the only one who has been affected by reading this book, it seems. It’s a bestseller, with 300k copies sold in just the first six weeks after being published. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn really is one of those “Books of the Century,” re-affirmed by its New York Public Library listing.

But, the story is so much more than a pop-tale of a young girl growing up in Brooklyn. Here’s how the novel struck me when I was first reading it (and upon re-reading as well):

  • Everyman (girl): Francie could be any of us, growing up in books and trying to make her way in the world. Smith said that the characters were “the kind of people I know and the kind of people I like.” By bringing such familiarity to life, she infuse the characters with life-like qualities. We could almost imagine that they will step out from the page of the book, and life out loud…
  • Social Activism: Smith said that she didn’t write the book for any socially significant reason, but like The Jungle and other rabble-rousing books, she touched a chord. Upon a landscape of hardship, hunger and addiction, she creates a tapestry of hope.
  • Saving Power of Storytelling: Francie’s grandmother had encouraged Katie (Francie’s mother): “you must tell the children the legends I told you–as my mother told them to me. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people–fairies, elves, dwarfs, and such…” She may not have known the true saving power of Shakespeare and the Bible when she gave that advice. Many readers have found hope, and reason to survive–in the pages of our favorite tomes.

Reading opens the world to me. It makes me believe that anything is possible… Is reading a very real part of your survival too?


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