I wanted to live in Brooklyn ever since I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was a teenager. I felt suffocated by the boredom of small town Wisconsin life and yearned for the big city, where there was a wide diversity of people, cultures, languages; tall buildings, ports, bridges, subways, trains. Brooklyn had it all: The best pizza, the best bagels; Coney Island and Prospect Park; all the unique neighborhoods, each with its own character. In white bread and bologna Wisconsin in the 50s, people didn’t know from a bagel, much less a good slice of pizza, though there was a great rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves.
Eventually I did go to Brooklyn where I had my first job at the Brooklyn Public Library in 1970. I only stayed a few years before moving to Seattle, but my daughter now lives in Brooklyn with her young family, so I go to Brooklyn every chance I get.
To vicariously experience Brooklyn through the eyes of a young adult, try these diverse examples of the coming-of-age novel.
Betty Smith’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of an Irish-American family living in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in 1912. They work hard, they are poor, but their love for each other and determination to overcome their poverty and other hardships bring them to the brink of realizing the American dream. For Francie, the main character, Brooklyn will always represent her childhood and the love of her family.
Brown Girl, Brownstones is the first novel by the critically acclaimed African-American author, Paule Marshall. Written in 1959, it is a semi-autobiographical story set during the depression and World War II. A Barbadian family immigrates to Brooklyn, where the pragmatic, ambitious mother dreams of owning her own brownstone and the romantic father dreams of returning to the Caribbean. We share in the struggles within the family through the eyes of their Brooklyn born daughter, Selina, as she deals with her ethnicity in a diverse societyand her ties to the Caribbean while trying to maintain her individuality as she matures during the war.
Chaim Potok is a best-selling author known for introducing the Hasidic world of Brooklyn to a broad audience. I read his first book, The Chosen, in one sitting. Set in the early 1940s, two Jewish boys develop a close relationship after playing on opposing sides of a Yeshiva baseball club. Danny’s father, the bearded Rebbe, follows the more mystical, rigid traditions of Hasidism; Reuven lives alone with his widowed father, who is an orthodox Zionist professor . The boys’ friendship is tested by a two year silence imposed on them by the Rebbe. The book artfully explores the conflicts between the two Jewish traditions and the differences in the father-son relationships of the two boys.
Part Two is coming soon, but in the meantime feel free to share your own favorite Brooklyn stories!
~Beth K., Central Library