By Abigail Fisher
I’m never able to resist a book about a girl who loves books. This is mostly due to the fact that I, myself, am a girl who loves books. No matter the plot or the heroine’s background, I can’t help but identify with a character who has a love for thick novels.
I thought I had all my classic bookworm protagonists covered, until I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I had certainly heard of the book before, but it hadn’t entered my stacks until this year. To right that outstanding gap in my cultural literacy, I grabbed a copy from a secondhand book sale and instantly fell in love with a familiar bibliophile heroine, Francie Nolan.
Francie Nolan is the child of poor Irish-American parents, Johnny and Katie, who are trying to stay afloat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As the title suggests, Francie remarks on a tree growing in the city and wonders at its perseverance in spite of the harsh conditions where she herself lives.
The story begins in 1912 and follows Francie, witnessing both the innocent joys of childhood and the cruel realties of poverty in New York City. Throughout her life’s ups and downs, Francie turns to books to escape the hard truths about her life, and to educate herself in hopes of escaping the social class she belongs to.
Her father, Johnny, is an alcoholic who fails to provide steady income for his family, requiring Francie and her brother Neeley to enter the workforce instead of continuing their education. Francie, however, refuses to give up on her education, and pushes herself to achieve bigger and better things through literature.
For me, reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a nostalgic experience because it reminded me of the first time I read books like The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden. These books feature girls who were able to survive dire circumstances through a love of books and a fierce will to persevere. I have to add Francie Nolan to the list of characters that inspire me to pick up a novel rather than throw in the towel when things seem dark. Sometimes we need inspiration that only authors can give us in order to carry on.