Francie Nolan grows up in the school of hard-knocks in Brooklyn, New York at the turn of the century. Life with her charming but shiftless father, her lovely but severe mother, and her younger brother is tough and full of sacrifices. But Francie takes pleasure in small comforts; the chance to sleep in the front room; a visit from her Aunt Sissy; or the ability to use her “pinching penny” to buy a bag of broken sweets. The author, Betty Smith was born on December 15, 1896, five years earlier than her fictional heroine. Smith also grew up poor in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the world she re-creates with such meticulous detail in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This was her first novel.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Practically everyone enjoyed the story and found the Francie’s experiences heartwarming and poignant. This book was very similar to Angela’s Ashes, although the family was not as completely wretched. We experienced some confusion between the time in which the book was written and the time in which the story was set -many of us thought we were reading a story about the 1940s and had to remind ourselves that it was World War I not II. We felt great antipathy toward Francie’s mother, especially when she forced Francie to leave school and support her brother’s education. The pictures conjured by the book will stay with you for a long time -especially the vision of the small girl sitting on the fire escape among the branches of the sumac tree with her bowl of peppermint candy and her library book.