Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Why I like it

Recently I had an interview with the Reading Institute for a job teaching with them this summer. One of the primary questions I was asked was what I liked about a book that pulled me in. I stuttered over fragmented reasons, using words like "metaphor" and "description," completely forgetting that the institute is not interested in analysis; it is interested in the simple truths that draw a person into a book.

Sadly, I was not accepted into the program. But I learned something: how to stop overanalyzing.

I became absorbed in a classic from the 1940s; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, transported me to a 1920s Brooklyn in the mind of a young girl: Francie Nolan. I got to follow her to the junk shop where she and her brother sold junk for change, and then to the candy store where they spent precious pennies on sweets. I felt her shame when the doctor discussed her filth to the nurse in front of her, and the shame of being poor and lying to get what she wanted: some pie or a doll that everyone else was too proud to admit they wanted. Her family was quirky and loveable, and she loved all of them unconditionally, unaware of their faults until she got a little older.

I read her thoughts like they were my own as she worked things out; why did her mother like her brother more than she? And why did daddy get so dunk all the time? Her mother had worked hard to make Francie into a thinker--and it paid off. Francie worked hard and found good jobs. She found herself a possible husband. She's known hunger and fear, and joy and love and heartbreak. She's learned the histories of her family. I've always wanted to know my family's histories.

She visited the candy store where she and her brother always went as children, and asked to buy every bag of candy on the wall, determined to find the prize that the owner had always claimed was there; but he argued with her, and she made him put a doll in one of them, so that some kid someday would win a prize. She even paid for it, just to give some other child hope.

Although I have compassion for the days she went hungry and lived in shame about her family's money problems, I am jealous of Francie for getting to know her home and her family so well, while I'm lucky to see my family a few times a year, and feel that I have no place to call home. While I suffered with Francie in her story, I suffer in my life for not having one quite the same.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good insight to the interview and sounds like you're decoupling your analysis from enjoyment. You do a good job using a personal story to give a book review. I haven't seen this method before and think you handled it well as the review becomes more meaningful. Thanks!