Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Most Wonderful Book


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith might be the most wonderful book, I think. I've just read it for the second time and I could begin again right now. Francie Nolan is one of the most appealing heroines in all of literature. She is smart and book-loving, sincere,truthful, and hardworking, and despite everything she goes through in her life, she remains hopeful and engaged. The story begins when Francie and her brother Neely are young, living in the slums in Brooklyn in 1912. They collect trash to sell to the junk man, fight crowds for stale bread and broken pies, they live an existence in which each penny that comes in has already been appropriated for something and nothing is taken for granted. We get to know Francie's family, follow her to the library as she reads her way though the alphabet, and finds herself a better school. Because somehow, Francie knew early on that knowledge would be her ticket for a better life. There is tragedy and sorrow in this story alongside little happinesses and moments of joy. It is a human story and this is why perhaps this book is considered a classic. It is so difficult to explain what is so very special about this book, it tells a tale that so many people lived, but in such an eloquent and direct way.

I couldn't recommend this book any more highly. I've also enjoyed Smith's book Joy in the Morning and have a copy of Maggie Now which is out of print and I'm saving for a rainy day.

13 comments:

Bookfool said...

I've yet to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but it's on my TBRs -- one of the many reasons I'm trying to get all caught up on the ARC stacks. I hope to read it in 2009.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, what a recommendation!

GretchenA said...

100% agree. I met Francie Nolan when I was about 12, and liked her a lot. The image of her on the fire escape has stayed with me. I re-met Francie again about 6 months ago, and was astounded at how much of the book was still familiar, and how much I took away from it. It's on the shelf of "for someday books" for my daughter to discover. Wonderful book!

Fyrefly said...

My college roommate and I did a "read my favorite book" trade, and this was hers. I really liked it, although it was long enough ago that I don't remember a whole lot about it. I should re-read it at some point...

Teresa said...

I listened to this book on audio a couple of years ago, and I wholeheartedly agree with your review. It's wonderful. Francie is such a great character, and she feels so authentic, especially in the later chapters about her young adulthood.

Anna said...

I agree! I read this book a couple years ago and LOVED it!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Sarah said...

This book has been on my mental TBR list for too long. It sounds wonderful, so I look forward to reading it.

Your review reminded me of a favourite book of mine, The Harp in the South by Ruth Park which similarly tells the story of a young working class girl's life although this time it's in the slums of Sydney in the 1940's. I'd recommend it if you haven't already read it.

Chain Reader said...

I whole-heartedly agree--this is one of the best books I've ever read.

vintagereads said...

Another book I need to read. Love that cover.

nutmeg said...

What can I say, I agree - I love this book. And I have this copy too!

Bybee said...

I was blown away by this book as well.

Cath said...

I read this for the first time back in the summer and genuinely thought it was one of the best books I'd ever read. Wonderful.

Tara said...

Bookfook, the ARCs are killing me too. I hope you read this!

Bermudaonion, I absolutely couldn't say enough good things about this.

GretchenA, I also cannot wait to share this with my daughter. Thanks for sharing your memories of this.

Fyrefly, what a great trade! I think this is one I'll be re-reading over and over.

Teresa, I love the later chapters. Francie is so mature, yet still has her unique and optimistic view on life.

Anna, thanks for chiming in!

Sarah, I hope you read it! I'm going to check out the Ruth Park book, thanks for mentioning it.

Chain Reader, thanks for your comment!

Vintage reads, I think you'd like this!

Nutmeg, I really like the cover on this one. In fact, I chose it over another cheaper version with a less appealing cover.

Bybee, glad to hear it!

Cath, I think it is too - one of my favorite books ever.