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Saturday, October 28, 2006

This one's been on my 'to read' list for a couple of years now, and I'm glad to have finally read it. And enjoyed it. This is a story of hope, and of life in the midst of struggle and challenge and need. Francie Nolan lives with her parents and brother in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn. Francie observes everyone and everything around her, noticing deep truths in places few would look. The story follows Francie and her family from the time she is eleven until she has become a grown up. The topics cover a bit of everything (as with real life) -- politics, fear, family relations, religion, education, dreams, death, humor, longing -- with some unusual ways of thinking and asking questions that make the read well worth the time.

One central character is Johnny Nolan, the father. He is a handsome man who always looks just right, but also is a drunk. Francie and her brother, Neely, love him as a father, and aren't ashamed of him the way their neighbors are. He isn't perfect but he's aware of that fact and sometimes tries to make it up to them by taking them for a special day trip, or bringing home something they will love, or just sitting on the roof and watching the stars with them. Having a dad who loves you and is able to show it sometimes seems invaluable. Having a dad who loves you and acts that way most of the time is rather a miracle, in this day and age. And being unashamed of those we love is something to remember. Despite the awkward stage of being embarassed by everything (especially parents!) many teens go through, how sweet to return to a confidence that is not based on what others think. That we can love someone no matter how others perceive them. Even if they do get drunk. Or if they smell bad. Or if they aren't as 'smart' as most people. Or if they're poor. A good challenge.

Francie loves english in school. She loves to write and her teachers encourage her to do so. But when Francie tries to write about life as she experiences it, her english teacher gives her bad grades and becomes disappointed in her. For one, the idea of good writing is to escape into beauty and ignore pain and the messiness of life. For the other, writing can be a way to express the messiness of life and find beauty within it. Very different ways of thinking and going about life. Before this, one teacher had discovered Francie lying and this is what she said about lies and truth and stories.

"You know, Francie, a lot of people would think that these stories that you're making up all the time were terrible lies because they are not the truth as people see the truth. In the future, when something comes up, you tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened. Tell the truth and write the story. Then you won't get mixed up."

How indistinct the line can become between truth and story. And sometimes we can only see the truth when it is in a story.

Title:A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Date published:1943
Genre: Fiction
Number of pages: 493
Notes: recommended by jewell


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