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Ronald C. Semone
08-15-2009, 10:41 AM
Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on a bench at a bus stop waiting with several other people for a bus when I noticed that the 12 or 13 year old girl sitting on the bench next to me was intently reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, a book I read almost 60 years ago. I was surprised to see her reading it and I wanted to ask her if it had been assigned in school, if she was reading it on her own, and what she thought of it, did she identify at all with the young girl in the story. But of course I didn't ask her any of these questions. I was afraid to do so. In today's overly-suspicious society (at least in the U.S), I risked rejection at best and cries of attempted molestation at worst.

But I would like to know: Is A Tree Grows In Brooklyn still read by anyone? Do people under 30 even recognize the title? Is it assigned in schools and, if so, in what grades?

myskepticsight
08-15-2009, 10:47 AM
I very recently read it at 22. It was never assigned in school but as an avid reader I've heard the title many many times and knew it was some sort of "classic." I was recently browsing at the library and the familiar title jumped out at me. I read it in one day. It's something I would have read at a younger age if it had ever fell into my hands. I liked it at this age though too, it's not so much a book for little kids - I'd think only the more precocious kids who actually really like to read a lot would ever "get" and enjoy the book. Quite a bit would have went over my head as a 11-12 year old.

Freudian Slit
08-15-2009, 10:49 AM
Same here, myskepticsight. Also, it was on a list of books that were recommended, and at one point in 8th grade, we had to read a book about ostracism on a long list of books, (any book) and write a paper on it. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of those books and a lot of people read it. (Sadly, so was Go Ask Alice. Ugh.)

I didn't read it for school but read it on my own for fun. I don't remember if i read it in eighth grade or right before but I think I was around thirteen. Great book. I think stuff did go over my head (a lot of the sex stuff) but I went back and reread it a lot as I got older.

Miss Mapp
08-15-2009, 10:52 AM
I bought and sent a copy to my niece for her 14th birthday a few months ago. I can't say whether or not she did read it, but she's read other, more grown-up books without difficulty. If I get a chance, I'll ask her what she thought of it.

apollonia
08-15-2009, 11:32 AM
It wasn't assigned in my school, but it absolutely should be. It's a fabulous book--my favourite of all time. Probably more suitable for high-school aged kids, who would better understand the concepts and some of the subtext. It's a wonderful portrait of a very specific time and place, and would go extraordinarily well along with a history class on the time. It's the best of Betty Smith's books, of course, but some of her others are interesting for learning about family and gender roles at the time.

Dinsdale
08-15-2009, 01:38 PM
I'm 48. We had ATGIB at home when I was a kid, and I read it then. Very much enjoyed it. Still pretty frequently smile remembering the bit about the neighbor kid who breast fed until he was quite old, and how his mom stopped him! :p Do I remember correctly - was the tree an ailanthus/tree of heaven? Because they are all over the place giving me more regular reminders.

I occasionally think of re-reading it. Not sure whether one of my sisters has our old copy. I'm sure my kids have not read it.

Ephemera
08-15-2009, 03:32 PM
I'm 27, and have heard of it, but haven't read it. I mostly know of it from Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies.

panache45
08-15-2009, 03:45 PM
I read the book, probably in junior high, though I don't think it was assigned. In the following years I've seen the movie and have a recording of the musical. I'm pretty sure that the book was the best of the three.

I suspect a lot of people are familiar with the title, and that's all. I also suspect a lot of people think there are no trees in Brooklyn.

Elendil's Heir
08-15-2009, 04:12 PM
I'd never even heard of the book until a few years ago, when my book club read it (I'm 44). The edition we read included endnotes that mentioned the book was massively reprinted during WW2 and distributed among U.S. troops, I guess because it was regarded as a contemporary classic of American literature. I liked it well enough but can't say that it blew me away.

Yllaria
08-15-2009, 04:26 PM
I'm 27, and have heard of it, but haven't read it. I mostly know of it from Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies.

I'm 53 and first saw the title on a book that Bugs Bunny was holding at the end of one of his cartoons. I think I finally got ahold of a copy some time in junior high. Definitely not assigned at the time, which was the late sixties. I've never heard it mentioned in a school context. My Dad recognized the title, though. He may have been the one to dig up the copy I read.

Markxxx
08-15-2009, 05:15 PM
I read all of Betty Smith's four novels and they are great. Her second book "Tomorrow Will Be Better," is better, but was too dark to be well received.

Smith's writing and use of imagry is powerful, unfotunately as a work of litature the book fails because Smith's theme of Francie "growing" in Brooklyn is not so. Smith compare's Francie to a tree but that tree successfully grows in Brooklyn DESPITE of all the hardships. Francie doesn't grow at all in Brooklyn, all her growth takes place simply because she LEAVES Brooklyn, or at least her piece of it.

But the characters are so well written and the images so well described that you have little trouble losing yourself in it. Though no longer in print I strongly recommend "Tommorow Will Be Better," Smith second book.

In it she examines the life of a similar Brooklyn girl Margie, who is the only one who seems to realize that it isn't enough to WANT to change your circumstance in life, you actually have to get around to DOING SOMETHING about it.

Smith's 3rd book "Maggie Now," is a bit odd 'cause the main charachter, named Maggie (nicknamed "Maggie Now,") is so incidental to the storyline you wonder why the book is named after her. You could almost remove Maggie Now and no one would notice. Plus the father in Maggie Now is a complete and total jackass and is so much fun to read. I kept laughing to myself saying "This man is a total jackass, why do good things always happen for him?"

Smith's 4th book "Joy In The Morning" is confusing. I liked it but it was only years later I found out that the publisher cut over 100 pages from it, before publishing it. And you can tell in some places the story just is choppy. In one place it actually says "All of a sudden a year has gone by." Smith never wrote like that, that was the most obvious edit.

tr0psn4j
08-15-2009, 05:21 PM
I think we were shown the movie in high school. Good stuff. I'll have to read the book now.

raspberry hunter
08-15-2009, 05:42 PM
I totally adore this book. I'm not sure I'd call it literature, but it's definitely something I would call a childhood classic as far as I'm concerned -- sort of in the same vein of the Little House on the Prairie books in terms of depicting the sort of conditions people lived through from the point of view of someone who really did live through them. It's also one of my "comfort fiction" books because it's very easy to read and the characters are all very likeable, without being banal.

I'm 32, though, so not sure I count.

scout1222
08-15-2009, 07:15 PM
I'm 53 and first saw the title on a book that Bugs Bunny was holding at the end of one of his cartoons.

Ditto, except I'm 35. I read the book about a year or two ago and loved it, much like I felt reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish I'd read it much sooner!

Sigmagirl
08-15-2009, 08:11 PM
I probably was 25 when I read it for the first time and have read it easily 15 times. I have read Maggie-Now maybe 8-10 times, and Joy in the Morning five times. I've never read Tomorrow Will Be Better. I now read Maggie-Now just for the scene in which Maggie makes a roast lamb dinner for Claude. I don't even like lamb, but it's one of the greatest food scenes in literature.

choie
08-16-2009, 02:47 AM
Smith's writing and use of imagry is powerful, unfotunately as a work of litature the book fails because Smith's theme of Francie "growing" in Brooklyn is not so. Smith compare's Francie to a tree but that tree successfully grows in Brooklyn DESPITE of all the hardships. Francie doesn't grow at all in Brooklyn, all her growth takes place simply because she LEAVES Brooklyn, or at least her piece of it.

I must disagree. It's not really about "growing" meaning becoming a better or different person than she was before; it's about how Francie grew up to become who she is, and what made her strong and able to search for that which will truly sustain her (like the tree that grows up and out of cement to seek the sky and sun). Francie is who she is because of everything she absorbed in her climate: she's her mother's grim determination to survive and her father's sensitivity and creativity; she's her mother's stubbornness and her father's weakness; she's the books she reads in alphabetical order from the library; she's the little flowers in the bowl that the janitor apparently places on the librarian's desk; she's the scumbag who attacks kids in the hallways of their tenements and the cop who hands her father an unlicensed gun because he knows a man has to protect his little girl; she's the compassion of the teacher who understands why Francie lied about needing the pie for a pair of impoverished twin girls and the callous cruelty of the doctor who calls her 'filthy' as he jabs her with a needle; she's her Aunt Sissy's sins and her Grannma Mary's sainthood. As the book says, she's all these good things and bad things -- and more, the part of her that's wholly her own. That's how she (and the tree) grows up in Brooklyn.

Yeah, like apollonia, this is my favorite book. Nothing else even comes close.

Tomorrow Will Be Better is my least favorite Smith book and Joy in the Morning is my second favorite, or at least they were when I last read 'wm umpteen years ago. I'll have to give them both another shot now that I'm older. Maggie-Now has a definite quirkiness to it, but like all Smith's works, the writing is so lyrical and paints a picture so vivid of its time, place and characters that you are enmeshed in its world.

ATGIB should be mandatory reading for everyone. It's a remarkable achievement.

Freudian Slit
08-16-2009, 10:17 AM
Smith's writing and use of imagry is powerful, unfotunately as a work of litature the book fails because Smith's theme of Francie "growing" in Brooklyn is not so. Smith compare's Francie to a tree but that tree successfully grows in Brooklyn DESPITE of all the hardships. Francie doesn't grow at all in Brooklyn, all her growth takes place simply because she LEAVES Brooklyn, or at least her piece of it.

But she doesn't leave Brooklyn till the end--and that part isn't even depicted. How can you say that she we don't see her growing in the book?

choie--very well put.

Sateryn76
08-16-2009, 11:44 AM
I just, last week, reread this for the zillionth time. It entered my reading rotation sometime in junior high or high school, and now it is one of those I reread 2-3 times a year.

Just a really fantastic book, and it has themes that affect adults as well as young adults.

drpepper
08-16-2009, 02:50 PM
I loved your description, choie; I got a little weepy reading it.

I loved the book too, and did not read it until I was an adult. I gave it to my book-loving 7th grade niece a couple years ago, and she devoured it and liked it, although it was sad. (I thought it was sad too, and don't re-read it for that reason).

Markxxx
08-16-2009, 05:58 PM
But she doesn't leave Brooklyn till the end--and that part isn't even depicted. How can you say that she we don't see her growing in the book?

choie--very well put.

Francie can't grow in her school. Francie LEAVES her own Brooklyn school and goes off to an elementary school in another district. Sure it's still in Brooklyn but not her piece of it. Her brother stayed in the school and stagnated just like her mother and father did. Francie grew because she expanded beyond her portion of Brooklyn

Notice when Francie gets a job, she gets one locally but this ends quickly. It's only when she goes over to Manhattan that she gets a good job and GROWS. Had she stayed in Brooklyn with the other factory workers she wouldn't have grown any.

She goes to school but at the end leaves not only her piece of Brooklyn but not only New York City, but she leaves the entire state.

I have no issue with the story, but Smith's analogy isn't apt. She starts with a tree that Smith says despite hard ships, despites problems with water and sun and everything it needs to grow it still manages to grow desipte all odds against it. Indeed the tree not only grows it's thrives

But Francie only grows when she expands her boundaries. Smith plainly states that the tree is in Brooklyn is a product of Brooklyn and grows and thrives despites the hardships. But Francie who is a supposed analogy to the tree doesn't grow at all in Brooklyn. She's nothing like that tree. So my issue really isn't with the book it's with the analogy to the tree.

I think its a great read but the analogy isn't apt.

congodwarf
08-16-2009, 06:28 PM
I read it when I was 17. I didn't read it for school although it was recommended by my English teacher. He also recommended Up the Down Staircase.

I loved both books.

choie
08-16-2009, 07:29 PM
Thanks, Freudian Slit and drpepper! I love the heck out of this book and I'm glad to see so many others who do, too.

Markxxx, i think you are being far too literal. I don't think Smith expected the analogy to be 1:1 or taken quite so strictly. Francie grew up in Brooklyn and became the amazing young woman she is both despite of and because of her hardships (and the benefits too -- her life wasn't relentless misery). She grew up hardy and ambitious enough to seek whatever it was she needed; passionate enough to find first love and live through its attendant heartbreak; and creative/compassionate enough to become a writer (presumably).

It seems that you're only thinking of her growth as evidenced in the final chapters of the book, whereas in fact we've seen Francie grow since page 1. We see her go from being ashamed of being a ragpicker to teasing other kids in turn to finally giving up the business altogether because she gets a real job. She goes from romanticizing that young unwed mother, to snubbing her when the girl smiles at her, to finally atoning for this behavior by returning the baby carriage once the mom is taunted off the streets. All these steps in her development are shown by Smith to be part and parcel of her inheritence, her upbringing, and her environment.

Of course the job she gets in Manhattan is exciting and enriching, but that's only one other step of her growth. Sure, she leaves that specific tenement in Williamsburg, and a big part of her childhood too (her last words are "Goodbye, Francie,") but her destination -- while a better class of home -- is still in the borough. It would be a depressing book indeed if Francie was never shown leaving that shabby little apartment. Like the tree, she has roots in Brooklyn and she seems to indicate that she'll always want to go back there. But unlike the tree, she can move around and experience everything.

I dunno. You're free to think the analogy doesn't work, but it just seems like a very narrow reading of the theme. It's like a step away from complaining because Francie doesn't actually use photosynthesis to grow. :)

Helena
08-16-2009, 08:25 PM
We just recently read it for (church) bookclub and all enjoyed it. My friend said it's one of the best books she's ever read.

robby
08-17-2009, 08:55 AM
I first read this book when it was assigned in 9th grade English, back in the early 1980s. I would never have picked it up on my own, as I was more into science fiction at the time. IIRC, the paperback edition I read was also subtitled "A diary of a young girl," which would have ensured that I would never have picked it up on my own.

Anyway, it is one of the best books I've ever read. I've re-read it since at least ten times.

I'll add that this book was one of just two books that I was assigned to read in school that actually resonated with me. (The other was Watership Down, which I'd picked off of a school-assigned list of books--yes, I thought it was about a sunken ship or submarine. It wasn't. ;) )

Ellen Cherry
08-17-2009, 11:49 AM
I love the book and discovered it on my own when I was in middle school and have re-read it countless times since. I even wrote a paper on it for one of my college history classes.

Since I enjoyed it so, I gave my daughter a copy a couple years ago and she too adores it. She was re-reading it during some free time at school and got a little sniffy. A teacher came up to her with a wholly sympathetic look on her face and inquired


Oh are you at part where her Johnny dies?

So, 14-year-old girls in 2009 read it and love it, as confirmed by my daughter.

apollonia
08-17-2009, 12:26 PM
I love the scene where Francie gets the letter from the now-wife of the boy she thought she was in love with. It's so perfect and heart-wrenching. And it gave rise to one of the best lines in the whole book, as far as I'm concerned:

A person can only cry for so long. Then he has to do something else with his time.

(My apologies if a word or two is off. I loaned my copy to a friend and haven't gotten it back yet, though I really need to reread it! This may be the excuse I need to get a nice new edition.)

choie
08-17-2009, 05:09 PM
Since I enjoyed it so, I gave my daughter a copy a couple years ago and she too adores it. She was re-reading it during some free time at school and got a little sniffy. A teacher came up to her with a wholly sympathetic look on her face and inquired


Oh are you at part where her Johnny dies?


Yipe, it's lucky that this was a re-read ... otherwise that's one helluva dumb question for the teacher to ask! :) (I mean, what if she'd been wrong?)

apollonia, your quote was 99.95% correct. Excellent memory!

Well, a person can cry only so long. Then he has to do something else with his time.

And yep, it's a great scene all around.

ralph124c
08-17-2009, 06:43 PM
Great thread..I read the book amny years ago, and liked it. Any opinion on the Elia Kazan film version? I thought it was good, but bit of a tear jerker.

choie
08-17-2009, 06:59 PM
Oh, I love the film! It's of course vastly truncated and many characters/subplots are perforce ignored, but the casting is absolutely spot-on (God, James Dunn rips my heart in two, as does the marvelous Peggy Ann Garner) and in general the production is stark, unsentimentalized and honest, which is to be expected from Kazan.

I would like to see a version that shows Francie's full arc, but I don't know if it's possible due to the aging issue. (Back in the day, Jena Malone would've been perfect for Francie.)

Guinastasia
08-19-2009, 08:56 PM
I'm 31 -- and I read it when I was in high school. My school librarian reccomended it to me. I absolutely fell in love with it.

I'd love to re-read it again, but unfortunately, my copy recently fell apart, and I had to throw it away. :( So I'll have to get another one. *sigh*

I've also read Maggie-Now, and that was another one. I have to say, I liked Paddy, especially how he's always shouting, "I'll bury yiz all!!!" And the part when


He finally whispers to his dying wife, "I love you, Mary"


Gets me every time.

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