Revisiting Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Revisiting Betty Smith A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.png

Over the extended Labor Day weekend we were in Brooklyn, visiting our son and daughter-in-law. In honor of that great and diverse borough, here's one of my favorite sections from one of my favorite novels. I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith when I was in 7th grade but have reread it several times since. It was a pivotal book for me, because it took me out of my middle-class, northern, Protestant late-1960s world and transported me to the world of a girl my age, Francie, who was growing up poor and Catholic in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Yet Francie was a girl I could relate to, and that was perhaps the biggest surprise of all when reading that book at the age of 12: to find a kindred spirit across time, across geography, across social class and religious affiliation.

    “Francie held the books close and hurried home, resisting the temptation to sit on the first stoop she came to, to start reading.          

    Home at last and now it was the time she had been looking forward to all week: fire-escape-sitting time. She put a small rug on the fire-escape and got the pillow from her bed and propped it against the bars. Luckily there was ice in the icebox. She chipped off a small piece and put it in a glass of water. The pink-and-white peppermint wafers bought that morning were arranged in a little bowl, cracked, but of a pretty blue color. She arranged glass, bowl and book on the window sill and climbed out on the fire-escape. Once out there she was living in a tree. No one upstairs, downstairs or across the way could see her. But she could look out through the leaves and see everything. ...

    Francie breathed the warm air, watched the dancing leaf shadows, ate the candy and took sips of the cooled water in-between reading the book."

            –Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


[Photo: taken on a street in Brooklyn.]