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24 in 2024 Book Challenge: Buddy Read (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)

Hi Book Friends!

Full disclosure, I picked up this book knowing nothing about it. I was drawn to it for 2 reasons: the cover and the promise of a NYC story. I had no idea I had picked up an American classic nor did I know this book would catapult to the top of my list of All-Time Favorite Books- like, it would make the cut for my coveted Top 10 list. It's that good people!

But TBH, after reading it, I was at a loss as to why I fell so completely in love with this story, but love it I did! So, I will try my darndest to put into words the magic and beauty of this story & try to convince you to read this book immediately!!!

So what's it about? In truth, this is the least spectacular part of this reading experience. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan growing up in the tenements of a poverty-stricken Brooklyn neighborhood. Despite the struggles of life as a poor immigrant, Francie clings to her dreams of being a writer.

Which brings us to the true attraction of this story. At its heart, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is about the power of dreams and the resilience of the human spirit. It calls us to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow. The themes of love, loss, and the pursuit of happiness are a potent and timeless combo. In other words, it gives you ALL the feels.

And the writing! Betty Smith paints such vivid pictures of life in Brooklyn it's as though you've been transported back in time. The members of the Nolan family are flawed, yet relatable- the eccentric aunt you can't help but love, the father crushed by the weight of his failed dreams, the tough mother that fights for her family all the while sacrificing pieces of herself, and the young girl whose optimism shines through despite her circumstances. They embed themselves into your heart and stay there long after the story ends.

And speaking of endings, I spent 15 hours listening to Francie Nolan's story, and I still wanted more! It is the first book in forever in which I felt depleted and out of sorts when the closing credits cut short my time in 1920's New York. Kate Burton's (of Grey's Anatomy fame) narration & characterization only added to the grit & authenticity of this American classic.

I urge you, I beg you, I implore you (do you feel my passion?) do not miss this unforgettable & timeless treasure! There is a reason A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has cemented its place as a literary classic & has captured the hearts of readers across generations. It is extraordinary in its ordinariness.

And, if you would like to explore the secret sauce of a good book that allows it to ascend over all the other amazing stories to "classic" status, then check out my blog post, What Makes a Book a Classic?.

Now, without further ado, I shall share with you 2 of my favorite quotes & 4 fun facts I dug up researching for this month's Buddy Read.


4 Fun Facts

4 Questions

Let's get down to the nitty gritty & dive a little deeper into this American classic. Take a few moments to reflect on the discussion questions then scroll to read my answers. I would love it if you commented with your thoughts.

My Answers to the Discussion Questions

  1. Do we harbor the same shame of being poor in today's society as portrayed in the book?

I believe so, however once a person overcomes poverty it becomes more of a badge of honor than a shameful past because we love an underdog story.

Yet, when a person is in the throes of the struggle, there is an embarrassment of their circumstances; the cast down eyes, the outdated clothes, the public acceptance of needed charity. I have witnessed several impoverished school families become upset when food baskets were offered to them. They were offended people would think they needed the help. They did not want the stigma attached to them. I have also welcomed kids with unstable family conditions into my home and thought how tiring it must be to worry about every meal and to have to graciously thank the well-meaning provider for every offering of kindness. All the while my kids nor I have ever had to say a thank you for lunch sack waiting on the counter or refrigerator stocked with favorite treats. We just take it for granted. My biggest take away from my experiences, is to not pity people in less fortunate situations but respect them.

2. How would this story read differently if told from Katie or Johnny Nolan's POV?

First off, I do not think I would love it nearly as much! Katie would be too cynical and Johnny would be too depressing. They already felt trapped by their life choices where as Francie still had optimism and hope for a better tomorrow. Katie & Johnny's stories would lead to dead ends while Francie's determination made me believe her possibilities were endless.

3. Katie is described as cold while Johnny is described as a dreamer. Is this fair?

It was a fair description but unfair circumstances. Johnny's choices left Katie with no other option other than to work hard to provide for her family. I feel like most people in Katie's predicament would become hardened by the weight of her responsibilities. Without her grit, her family might have crumbled. All the while Johnny lived life according to his whims with little thought for the effect this had on his wife and children. His charm lost its luster for his wife but always shined brightly in Francie's eyes. Francie never saw her dad through adult eyes, she chose only to focus on her father's love for her. This meant more to her than her mother's hard work, for her dad provided a more security more precious than money. Francie's dad provided the security of unconditional, expressed love. This made me sad for Katie in that she never felt free enough to lead with her emotions.

4. What makes this book a classic?

In short, this book is more than a good story; it resonates with your soul and makes a permanent home in your heart. It explores universal themes and thus transcends time. The storytelling is masterful and a delight to the ears. It is memorable and begs to be reread. It is a book you fall into, lose time, fall in love with the characters, and feel despair creeping in when the pages dwindle to the end and it's time to say good-bye.

So, have I convinced you to buy & read this book, immediately?! I'm dying to know if you love it as much as I did! And for those of you who read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with me this month, thank you. I love bookish banter.

If you would like to join the fun of the 24 in 2024 Book Challenge, then click here!

Until next month, bookish friends. I'll be sharing enticing tidbits about our Book of the Month, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. I promise, Marcellus the octopus will be your new addiction.

Happy reading,

Stacey Faubion


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