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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

Over the past few months that I have been reviewing books, I have tended to avoid classics and older books. My logic usually includes the knowledge that these books have been reviewed countless times and have acquired countless fans over the years. However, that is what I find interesting about these books, their timelessness and ability to inspire generations of readers. 

One of these famed classics is Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Smith’s novel is a sort of nostalgic-melancholy memoir, written through the eyes of an Irish-Catholic adolescent girl living in poverty at the dawn of the 20th century. Despite her naiveté, Smith’s protagonist is unapologetically realistic as she describes her constantly drunk father and the situations in which she encounters. The coming-of-age story reveals the cruel reality of life in the city, even for a young girl.

This classic deserves its reputation. Smith writes in the tone of a young girl while imbuing the pages with her wisdom and memories The tale is dark and sometimes disturbing, but both realistic and moving. Its timelessness is understandable, as the story approaches problems that still exist – such as drunkenness, violence, and death. The grim circumstances of the protagonist tell the story of millions and give us a taste of life in the early 1900s. The sadness of the novel is balanced by the pride and passion Smith feels for writing and books.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is interesting, as much as it is thought-provoking. The memoir is one of my favorite classics to have read so far.

Published in 1943 by Harper publishers.

The Vacationers, Emma Straub

Vermont’s winters can be cold and dark; often, we want a temporary escape. Emma Straub’s The Vacationers is the novel perfect for just that. The Vacationers is the story of a family vacation set in Mallorca, Spain. Amidst sandy beaches, palm trees, and delicious food, the dysfunctional American family struggles to coexist. The cast is composed of a middle-aged couple dealing with a recent cheating scandal, their twenty-something son struggling to find a career, his gym-trainer barbie girlfriend, and their insecure highschool-graduate daughter. Each has their own personal struggle as they attempt to relax on the family vacation. Issues with Spanish tutors and old idols arise, and the family finds themselves even more worked up than when they left. Between arguments and that familiar family friction, the vacation is a rollercoaster of bonding and fighting in the peaceful hills and sandy beaches of the island.

Although it is a drama with some serious topics, Straub’s humor keeps The Vacationers relatable. I found myself recognizing traits of myself and others in each one of the characters. Each is likable in some way, despite the complicated situations, and their obvious imperfections. This realistic portrayal of a family makes the somewhat-cliche story engaging and exciting. Straub’s novel is a good break from reality, and readers take a little vacation of their own.

Published in 2014 by Picador.

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