I read my mother’s copy for the first time around fifth or sixth grade. While the novel follow Francie well into her adult life, I credit the book with beginning my passion for coming of age stories.
I related to Francie, because books are her best friends, and she doesn’t have an easy time making friends in school. She loves writing, is thoughtful and melancholy. My life might never have been tough life Francie’s, but I still felt like she did inside some of the time.
The other thing that brought me back many times over is the imagery of Betty Smith’s story telling. Everything is so vivid: the people, the places, the ideas. It’s the details that have stuck with me. Little things like Francie’s mom teaching her to order a piece of meat at the butcher shop then ask the butcher to grind it fresh, rather than letting him sell her the inferior pre-ground meat. Yet Katie Nolan also believes in a little bit of waste being good for the soul, so she makes coffee each day for each family member to have a cup. If the children just enjoy the warmth of the cup and the aroma, then so be it. It is their cup to enjoy and pour the rest down the drain if it comes to that.
I do believe that much of my understanding of compassion and human nature came from the books I read. Francie’s family is loving, but imperfect. Hardworking mom Katie can often be just plan hard toward Francie, partly because although she has always loved her husband, she wants Francie to have an easier time in life. She drives her away from boys and frivolity towards education and employment. My favorite of the extended family is Aunt Sissy who has lots of boyfriends and husbands. She’s buxom, passionate and plays with the kids with gusto. She is much frowned on in the neighborhood, and is in no way considered a good lady in that time period. I love her exuberance while knowing I am not a Sissy type of person. I worry about the consequences of my actions and endeavor not to make the same mistakes twice more like Katie. Of course, as a kid, I could only see myself in Francie, but that is the beauty of reading the same book throughout a lifetime.
Does anyone else have a favorite coming of age novel they’ve loved forever?