“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” book response and June selection!

Coming off of grim dystopian novel A Handmaid’s Tale, we all decided to read something sweeter for April and May. Confession: I nominated this book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and didn’t realize how long it was (500+ pages) so we extended the book club by a month (hence no post at the end of April).

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I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several years ago and remember being quietly moved by it. I was eager to revisit it and find out if the feeling was still true. It was.

This is Betty Smith’s first and most famous novel, largely based on her own experience growing up in a poor immigrant family, after the turn of the 20th century but before World War I. The book is written in third person but focuses mainly on the main character, Francie, and secondly on her family, the Nolans: mother Katie, father Johnny, and brother Neely. The premise of following along as an 11-to-17 year old girl grows up in desperate poverty sounds quite grim, but Francie’s rich inner world and constant childlike-but-wise observations on the world around her are constantly charming and heartwarming. In this way, we can all take a lesson from this and reflect on the beautiful in the everyday.

“Then I’ve been drunk, too,” admitted Francie.
“On beer?”
“No. Last spring, in McCarren’s Park, I saw a tulip for the first time in my life.”

The thing I liked most about the writing in this book is how often Smith would lay out the story or moment, and then at the end let us enter into the character’s reflection at the end. She would summarize dinner and the evening routine in the Nolan household, maybe one without enough food to go around, and then slip in something poignant like Katie thinking to herself, “It’s a hard and bitter world. They’ve got to live in it. Let them get hardened young to take care of themselves.” Peeking into the inner lives of the characters, even side characters from time to time, connected me more to each of them and reminds me that we all aspire to be more and we have inner lives that only some of us bring to daylight.

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As the book progresses, it does so slowly at times, and rapidly at times, just how I felt as I grew up. And, although the world in the book was 100 years ago, there are so many relatable everyday moments. There are still those universally relatable moments—sibling jealousy, the struggle of a horrible teacher, the worries about not fitting in at a new job. I’m sure I will read this again every few years to remind me that every life is a journey, even if it doesn’t seem to have a straight direction, and that I should pause and reflect on the small things in my life from time to time.

“If there was only one tree like that in the world, you would think it was beautiful. But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is.”

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take!


Virtual Book ClubLast night we held our monthly discussion group on facebook. I love setting aside time to hear other perspectives on themes and events in a book that was fresh in our minds. If you’d like to join us over there (normally the last Tuesday of the month), message me on facebook to be added.

For June, our group selected by vote Three Wishes by the ubiquitous Liane Moriarty. I’ve never read anything by this author but she is wildly popular, so I’m sure it will be good. Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we read together.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” book response and April selection!

I don’t know what your political affiliations are, but sometimes I feel that even as we march towards a “better” future, we are also slowly creeping towards a dystopian world. A world in which computers know more than we do, when separation anxiety from a device is real, when corporations have more rights than the workers who power them… you get the idea. So, reading dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World fill me with dread and at the same time fascination. The Handmaid’s Tale was a big gap in the dystopian genre that I’d always meant to fill, and now I have! It isn’t that common for the genre to have a female protagonist, and I found that it made the troubling alternate reality more personal instead of societal.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood book club response

When I picked this up, I already knew that some people had been comparing it to “America under a totally Republican-led government.” What I didn’t know was it had been written in the mid 80s as a response to the rise of the Moral Majority’s attempts to move women from the workforce back into the role of mother and homemaker. So, I suppose in some regard this comparison was intended by the author, 30 years ago? Instead, I read it through the lens of someone who has studied global politics including [the lack of] women’s rights in Saudia Arabia, and in Afghanistan under the Taliban (click if you want to be informed, and depressed). Households in these countries, recently and currently, give women little to no autonomy. They are literally treated like family property. And this isn’t the 1800s or the 1950s, this is the 2000s.

Do I ever think the US will reach the level of a totally male-led theocracy? No. Do I think there are men in power who do seek to purposely suppress the rights of women? Sure. Do I think there will be enough of them to enforce a regimented caste system among women like in this book? Of course not. Especially if we (women) and our allies keep our eyes open. I am encouraged by the January Women’s Marches. People across the US are more plugged in and involved with causes than they have been in decades, and regarding a lot of topics, too. Gender issues, minority issues, disability issues, nature and food issues, etc.

Spoilers between this photo and the next one. 

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood book club response

Aside from the current event commentary, the main question with regards to The Handmaid’s Tale is… what happens to Offred after the narration stops? I believe the answer to that question divides people into optimists and pessimists; I think the author wants it that way. First you have to think about how Offred got to the point of telling her tale at all. Increasingly audacious steps of rule-breaking:

  • Revealing to Ofglen that she is not a True Believer
  • Meeting with the Commander in private, including, gasp, reading
  • Going to Jezebel’s and getting secret information from Moira
  • Her arrangement with Serena Joy—including her continued liaisons with Nick
  • Finally, the rescue, which I believe was orchestrated by Nick

It is my hypothesis that she records her tale in a safe house, and stores the tapes in that safe house before being transported out of the country. That is what I hope happens. It is just as likely that she is apprehended on her way out of the country. I guess I’m an optimist and hope it’s the former. Many people in my discussion group wondered if she ever saw her daughter again. I guess it’s because I’m not a mother but I honestly hadn’t thought about that. What do you think?

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood book club response

The Handmaid’s Tale comes out on Hulu April 26. Netflix and Hulu have really been bringing it in regards to original programming lately. Our TV antenna picks up no channels so we depend on Hulu to watch current shows like New Girl and This Is Us. So here’s where I give you my referral code if you aren’t already a customer. If you sign up I get $10! Check out Hulu for 2 weeks free, on me! Plans start at $7.99 after 1st 2 weeks. Terms apply.

As always leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon. I would love to read your take.


Virtual Book ClubLast night we held our monthly discussion group on facebook. If you’d rather discuss our monthly reads over there (normally the last Tuesday of the month), instead of in the comment section here, message me on facebook to be added.

For April, our group sought out something “springy” and decided that growth fit the theme. We voted and selected A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I am really excited to re-read this; it is one of my favorite books.  Please join along with Libby, Steph, and the rest of our group as we read together.

“Heartburn” book response and March selection!

February. The month of love! I thought the group had picked a light rom-com when I saw that the winning book (Heartburn) was written by Nora Ephron and had a pink cover with a heart on it. Instead what I ended up reading was more of a short novel about the process of falling out of love. The plot was a bit of a downer, but the writing itself was light, funny and cynical.

The book jumps right in with both feet, and the first thing we find out is that the main character, Rachel, has been cheated on by her husband of several years, Mark. Mark does not come off very well in the book, but that could be due to the bitter first-person narrative of The Woman Scorned. Both Rachel and Mark seem funny and successful like many Washington, DC power couples, but we find out they don’t have that much in common. It comes out that Rachel has been seeing a therapist for many years, which Mark doesn’t take seriously (jerk alert). Rachel harbors a lot of resentment against him for this, so I got the impression that their relationship may have been on the rocks aside from the obvious adultery transgression. It’s not a good sign if a person and their spouse don’t respect each other.

So, I think I covered what made it a downer. Here’s what counteracted that: Nora Ephron’s writing shone through in Rachel’s voice as witty and conversational. She used lots of asides (which I like to do, look I just used one), to great comic effect. There was exaggeration, too, and lots of New York and DC stereotypes and unique side characters (like Rachel’s neurotic first husband who sounded absolutely dreadful). The way she worked recipes in seamlessly and conversationally was a nice touch, too.

Oh, and Rachel also resents the fact that Mark (a newspaper columnist) used to turn life events into fodder for his writing. This struck home to me as a blogger. I like to write about my life but I have been conscientious not to write about everything and especially not stuff that affects my relationships with those who have no voice in my story.

Nora Ephron famously wrote movies like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally so I was looking for a show-stopping romantic ending, but instead the book ends somewhat abruptly and leaves the reader pondering what would happen next. I was glad to read something short and I’m not really bothered by non-endings (when it’s a slice of life like this, anyway) so I thought the open-ended conclusion was fine but I rate the book overall as a bit forgettable.


Virtual Book ClubA reminder that we started a facebook group for the book club if you would rather discuss our monthly reads over there instead of in the comment section here. We had a really nice time talking about Heartburn last night and fangirling over Queen Meryl Streep. Message me on facebook to be added. Also, don’t forget to stop by Libby and Steph’s blogs to see their book club responses.

March commences today, and our group chose The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s a Hulu series coming out in April based on this dystopian fiction, and it seems like something Every Good Feminist reading should have under her belt. I’m a bit intimidated though, but here goes!