Bookish Banter- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

 Anyone else living in that weird in-between-holidays time right now? Definitely me (hence why this was supposedly scheduled to post yesterday but apparently I screwed up). Julie and I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a reread for her and a new one for me, and we both totally enjoyed it. It's always such a pleasure to "talk" about books and I am so thankful that Julie does most of the formatting (especially this time around, since December has been insane). Now I just need to choose what to reread next! 

Julz: I picked this book because it was one I wanted to reread and because Christine hadn't yet read it.  It's a modern classic, and I initially read it over a decade ago for book club.  I'm so glad I did, too...  It's a wonderful story and a modern classic.  Would you agree?
Christine: I admittedly went into this with very little knowledge about the book, despite owning it. It's one of those classics that have just slipped through the cracks. I deeply appreciate the female bildungsroman genre, and it was so rare in this time period! I really wish I could fit this novel into my curriculum, there's just so much to unpack.
Julz: OK, I’m admitting I had to look up the definition of bildungsroman.  I’m ashamed.  But wow, that is quite the compliment that you would love to teach this book!
I thought it was so sad that the librarian never recognizes "...the little girl who took a book out every day and two on Saturday.  A smile would have meant a lot to Francie and a friendly comment would have made her so happy."  Why did the librarian, who didn't even like children, irritate me so much?!
Christine: I just read that part fifteen minutes ago, so that annoyance is fresh for me, too. I think there was an interesting parallel there, between the total disinterest in clientele and not being the one to put the flower in the bowl was such a great move on Smith's part. The librarian was simply punching the clock, which seems too blasphemous to book-lovers like us. I was equally frustrated by the English teacher who told her to write beautifully. 
Julz: Was Sissy's episode with Johnny drying out motherly or seductive?  As much as I liked Sissy, I thought that whole whiskey-in-the-bosom thing a little awkward.  
Christine: There were definite sexual nuances there, and I really thought they were going to sleep together. There seemed to be a lot of overlap between being maternal and being sexual; for Sissy they were almost the same, until she actually had a child of her own. I was sort of impressed with how Katie handled it, with the not-so-subtle line when she came out about them being sisters.
What did you think of Sissy's "pregnancy"? I was torn between being absolutely amused but also a little sad for her. 
Julz: It was totally pitiable, but her own belief in achieving it and going through with the charade said a lot about her character.  The whole episode was Sissy in a nutshell.
OK, another thing that got me down was Francie's first experience at school.  But I was thrilled when she set her sights higher and was able to get into a better school (thank you very much Papa for finding a solution).  But what moved me most was Francie's graduation and that she wasn't expecting flower, but Papa had the forethought to write the card and have Sissy buy flowers.  That was emotionally gutting.
Christine: Oh god, if this was a movie I'd be bawling (actually, I think it is a movie? Not sure). You're totally right about her father always solving problems, despite having so many of his own. This ability to be paternal made his failings so much more heartbreaking. 
It often made me sad that Francie had no friends and commented later on her dislike for other women. Do you think she would have been less ambitious if she were more social?
Julz:  I was remembering the graduation scene again where all the girls were vying for her attention and she suddenly realized she could have had friends all along.  But maybe I interpreted it differently as far as sociability goes.  When you have to survive poverty and support a family, you don’t really have the luxury of fostering friendships.   And because Francie had to be so self-reliant to put food on the table, she figured she’d spend every spare moment on self-improvement.
This has to have been pretty ahead of its time, even scandalous, considering some of the topics it addressed: alcohol abuse, poverty, illegitimate children, sex, even a pervert molester!  Are there any other issues you were surprised to encounter considering it was published in 1943?
Christine: I agree, there were a lot of little mentions of things that she seemed to deliberately, yet casually, insert throughout the text, like the box of condoms, the fancy lace underwear she bought herself for Christmas (well, from Neely...), and the fact that Sissy always called her boyfriends "Johns" (which I guess could be in the nature of a pimp or in the "Dear John" sense... I'd have to check into when those phrases were actually used). I think this idea of pushing the envelope for coming-of-age novels is what makes the successful ones that way, if we look at what, say, Salinger did in The Catcher in the Rye
Julz: Blerg, I hated Catcher.  But I’m so glad you liked this!  And I’m happy I was the catalyst for you to finally read it!

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