"Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn't fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer."
I've had this book on my shelf for several years now and the What's In A Name
challenge gave me the push I needed to read it, fulfilling the Place category. What a fun, sweet and light read. I absolutely loved it. The version I have is not the one pictured, but a hardback Reader's Digest version that came with a paper insert flyer about the author. This was Betty Smith's first novel and it is autobiographical. Betty grew up in a tenement house in Brooklyn, eldest daughter to German immigrants, with a Chinese sumac tree growing outside of her window. At age 11, two of Betty's poems were published in a local newspaper. Her father died the next year and Betty had to quit school to work and help support her family. We read about those jobs in Betty's novel. Just like in the book, Betty was accepted into the University of Michigan's writing course without her high school diploma. There she met and fell in love with law student, George Smith. In 1938, Betty had two kids and was divorced, but continued to write, starting A Tree Grows In Brooklyn in 1939 and finally getting it published in 1943 to great success. Betty also wrote three other, much lesser known, novels.
"Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She is her father's child--romantic and hungry for beauty. But she is her mother's child, too--deeply practical and in constant need of truth. Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive. Betty Smith's poignant, honest novel created a big stir when it was first published over 50 years ago. Her frank writing about life's squalor was alarming to some of the more genteel society, but the book's humor and pathos ensured its place in the realm of classics--and in the hearts of readers, young and old. (Ages 10 and older) --Emilie Coulter --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. "