Tag Archives: Reading

Recommended Reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Okay, so I know it’s an oldie-but-goodie type of book, but I think every adult in the US needs to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, like NOW. Gah. It’s good on so many levels. It’s part coming-of-age, part tragedy, part love story, and part kick-in-the-face to all of us who whine about our wifi being too slow.


In the event you’re like Sarah and me and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn wasn’t required reading for you in school, here’s a rundown: Francie Nolan is a second-generation Irish-American adolescent girl growing up in a Brooklyn tenement in the early 1900s. She and her family are super poor, and while her dad, Johnny, is an extremely talented (and apparently gorgeous) singer, he is also a dreamer/alcoholic who can’t keep a steady job, so Francie’s mom, the beautiful but hardened Katie, has to pick up his slack by working hard cleaning apartment buildings.

Francie and her younger brother Neeley fall in line with all the other kids in their part of Brooklyn by collecting scraps of junk to sell to the pervy guy down the street for a penny, unknowingly being racist toward people of other cultures in their neighborhood, and generally being consumed by poverty.

The difference with Francie is that she has her dad’s dreamer qualities and loves to escape her pitiful life through books, which she reads in the shade of a tree by their apartment building. Francie just doesn’t quite fit in with any of the neighborhood kids, and she eventually ends up convincing her dad to lie about their address so she can attend a better school where she can actually get an education and not just humiliation. The reader can tell early on that Francie is special and has the potential to rise above her socioeconomic status, if only her dad didn’t suck at life.  

Francie watches her parents’ complicated relationship: Katie and Johnny are the epitome of being in love, but Johnny can’t handle life well enough to provide for his family, so Katie kinda resents him for that, but at the same time, she loves him so much, she does what she can to protect him and support him despite his disease. AKA they are beautiful and dysfunctional and you JUST WANT JOHNNY TO GET HIS CRAP TOGETHER so they can all be happy and sing together and be the WWI version of the Von Trapps. (Hey, Katie is actually Austrian, so maybe there’s a way…)

Von Trapps

I seriously get goosebumps just looking at this picture. Sarah and I are total TSOM nerds.

It doesn’t happen, and Johnny dies of pneumonia as a result of his alcoholism. Don’t crucify me here–I’m not spoiling anything. The book makes it clear from early on that Johnny dies. Knowing he is going to die makes reading up to that point all the more emotional. Seriously, you just love him so much but also want to punch him in the face because he could make things so good for his family.

Throughout their marriage, Katie had a tin-can bank hidden in the closet where she was saving up for land in the country where they could live happily ever after. When she had to drain the bank to pay for Johnny’s cemetery plot, she told her kids that they wouldn’t need the tin-can bank anymore anyway because they now owned a piece of land. [Insert ugly cry]

The book goes on to follow Francie’s completion of school, getting the shaft from her mother regarding going to high school (Katie can only afford for one kid to go, and she chooses Neeley because she know Francie has enough ambition to find a way for herself. Not a cool moment for me.), and going out in the working world. She stumbles some and she soars some, and she falls in true love and she falls in practical love. Francie has mama drama, but she always comes back around is able to understand her mom’s reasons for doing what she does because Francie is super intuitive and level-headed.

The reason I think this book should be read by all is because it appeals to basically anyone in any situation. Crappy relationship? Done. Money problems? Got it. Family issues? Yep. Want to go against all the naysayers and get out of your rut? Uh-huh. Think you’re better than everyone and poor people just need to get off their lazy butt and get a job? This is for you.

So many of our immigrant relatives planted their foreign roots in the US with lives like these; the book is a wake-up call that makes the reader contemplate just how they got to their current situation, gives hope to those beaten down by life, and will hopefully make you consider other people’s experiences before judging them as worthless.

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”-Mary Rommely


Seriously, all the feels.


Sarah Says:


UGH – FINE. I’ll add it to the list.

Nightstand books to read
Just a few of the books I’m trying to read currently

First Post!

Meghan and I are very lucky. We are sisters born almost exactly 3 years apart, and despite almost sharing a birthday, and a significant portion of our DNA, we are very different people.

Venn diagram


We never had to compete for our parents’ attention, because they were adamantly 50/50 devoted to our upbringing and equally over-involved in everything we did. Besides the time our grandpa was sick with cancer, they never missed a game, performance, meet, or competition in which either of us participated. This allows us to easily maintain distinct identities within our lives while simultaneously being the best of friends and understanding each other better than almost anyone else on earth could.

Two of our overlapping interests are reading and writing, and though we also generally share a sense of humor and appreciation for sarcasm, our lists of favorite authors and books have no common elements. We were raised by a sci-fi and fantasy loving father who read us “The Hobbit” from the earliest times of our childhood, and a middle school English teaching mother who read us “Summer of the Monkeys” by Wilson Rawls a chapter at a time before bed in elementary school. We also always loved English classes all through school, and competed in Ready Writing at the district UIL scholastic meets each year.


We weren't brainwashed by our dad to be Texas Aggies at all
We weren’t brainwashed by our dad to be Texas Aggies at all

Somewhere along the way, “adulting” has taken away much of the time we used to devote to these pursuits, and we decided to take back the control. By consciously making the priority to read and write each day, we hope to take time for ourselves to strengthen our own sanity in our daily lives, as well as share with others the things that make us laugh, or cry, or reconsider the world in some way. Thanks for joining us on this journey, and be sure to subscribe and follow us for updates in the sidebar or on the Follow Us page!