A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith, 1943

The story of Francie Nolan’s growing-up years is the tale of Francie’s mother Katie, father Johnny, brother Neely, and her aunts, uncles, and neighbors – but it’s also the story of Brooklyn in the early 1900’s as seen through the eyes of a child, a teen, and finally a young adult. Like the other characters, the city is gritty and hard-edged, but still well-loved.

Francie is eleven when first introduced, and is old enough for college at the story’s close.  Brooklyn is semi-autobiographical, and perhaps this explains author Betty Smith’s knack for drawing the reader into the story. I was pulled in so deeply that I forgot my own presence; there was only the story.  This doesn’t happen with every book I read, but it’s always the goal.

Brooklyn was shipped to US Troops in World War II in an Armed Services edition, meeting with wild success. It was the basis of movies in 1945 and the early 1970s, a musical, and even a comic strip.  Smith has written several other books, including a sequel called Maggie Now. 

In the 1945 movie adaptation, Dorothy McGuire plays Katie Nolan. I saw this film many years ago. McGuire happened to resemble my maternal great grandmother; Katie Nolan and my great grandma share similar personality traits as well, which endeared Katie to me. Grandma Elsie and Katie Nolan would have been contemporaries; alas, neither would have had met the other because they would have been too busy keeping households afloat. But that’s neither here nor there.

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