I found my voice through Betty Smith’s Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Tree Grows in BrooklynEditor’s Note: Today’s post is based on the I Read YA prompt, “Tell us about the YA book that helped you find your voice.”

I was probably about 12 years old when my mom first handed my Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My mom gave me other books — Jane Eyre, Tisha, Little Women and Little Men — that I loved with all of my heart, but it was the story of a girl growing up in the Williamsburg tenement neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York that helped me (and continues to help me) find my voice.

I know it seems odd for a tween living in the suburbs of Salt Lake City to relate to a girl in 1910s New York, but I found myself in Francie more than any character I’d ever read about before. Though our circumstances were different, I “got” Francie.

First and foremost, Francie was a reader:

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

Francie understood what it was like to be different:

“She had become accustomed to being lonely. She was used to walking alone and to being considered ‘different.’ She did not suffer too much.”

Francie knew she was unique and celebrated it:

“She was made up of more, too. She was the books she read in the library. She was the flower in the brown bowl. Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie’s secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father stumbling home drunk. She was all of these things and of something more…It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life – the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike.”

Francie’s mom was so so strong:

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”

Francie was curious:

“And always, there was the magic of learning things.”

My copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is packed away. It’s been in a box of three years, and it’s the longest I’ve gone without rereading it. And after writing this, I feel as if I need to go check it out of the library, because the book is more than a book, it’s a part of me.

© 2017, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

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About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.

1 Comment

  1. I agree! It’s a fabulous book.

    “Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry… have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere—be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is everlost.”

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