When life presented challenges to Frances Nolan, the main character in a “Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, she would often recall what her granma Mary Rommely would say:
To look at everything as if you were seeing it for the first, and last time. Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” takes place over a 100 years ago beginning with 1912, to about 1917. The beauty of this book is that it is written in heightened realism. The attention to detail, of how character is defined by a sense of place, and their living conditions, brings to light the struggles a poor family had to overcome. This is especially true for Francie, who lost her beloved drunken singing Irish father, when he was only 34 years of age. After her father’s death, Francie forfeited her high school education to work and help her mother, while her younger brother Neely, got to go to high school. They could only afford for one to go. Katie, the mother, who wanted her son to be a doctor, reasoned with her daughter Francie that if she went to high school, and Neely didn’t, he would never go, but she knew her daughter would pursue her education somehow, and that Francie did. Francie never stopped fighting, to get an education. She worked right out of junior high school to help her mother sustain the family, and got herself into night and summer school, until eventually, she ended up going to college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The book, highly autobiographical, was written by Betty Smith, in 1943.