Francie’s Genes

We had book club at my house last week, and the book under discussion was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It’s a semi-autographical book that gives a glimpse of what life was like in the early part of the 20th century in the bustling area of Brooklyn. The poverty that the Nolans endure permeates the book, but there are high points and memorable characters (like Aunt Sissy) as well. It’s a coming of age book about young Francie, but other themes such as hard work, gender issues, the American dream, love, class divisions, hope, and the importance of education are there too.

As is our usual practice, we each discussed our favorite or most memorable part of the book, and mine was about the unique “mix” that Francie was. Indeed, we’re all like her in that we’re all unique combinations of our heredity, environment, and that special X factor. In a rather lengthy paragraph that begins with, “And the child, Francie Nolan, was of all the Rommelys and all the Nolans,” the author proceeds to pinpoint many of Francie’s traits and state where they came from. For instance, she got her tale-telling and compassion for the weak from her grandmother Rommely and the talent for mimicking from Aunt Evy.


Haven’t you ever wondered where you got your curly hair or your propensity for math? And what about your shyness? Is it hereditary? Look at the recent feats of Michael Phelps and consider his genetic endowment. Several commentators have mentioned his long torso, short (relatively speaking) legs, and wide arm span, all physical attributes that aid in his swimming prowess. Couple those traits with his strong drive to achieve and his hour after hour after hour practice, and you have the making of a champion. And yet, is there something else too? Something else about Michael Phelps, Francie Nolan, and you??


Further describing Francie, the author  states,  “She was all of these things and of something more that did not come from the Rommelys nor the Nolans, the reading, the observing, the living from day to day. It was something that had been born into her and her only—the something different from anyone else in the two families. It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life—the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike.’

You’ve gotta love that!


Author: jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer

14 thoughts on “Francie’s Genes”

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favorite books. I actually don’t have it on my shelves right now because I loaned it to a friend who I thought would really like it. I am surprised when I hear how many people haven’t read it before! As soon as I get it back, I’d like to read it again.

    The story reminded me so much of my own childhood when I read it (though it was not in Brooklyn, not nearly as poverty stricken, and I do not have a brother – which is a huge part of Francie’s story) and also my mom’s growing up (she did grow up much poorer with a younger brother). My mom still hasn’t read it though I think it would be really good for her to.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas about the book.
    ~Melisssa 🙂

  2. I do love it!!! I think “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is one of my “new” favorites. Despite all the odds hope shines through. Our adversities also make us who we are…
    This post coupled with the “Mr. Rogers” video on Hayden’s blog has really had me thinking about the uniqueness and specialness of each person!!!

  3. Melissa, Thanks for stopping by my blog and posting a comment. I’m wondering if you liked it so much because we can see something of Francie in all of us: her struggles with her mother, her relationship with her sibling, her “coming of age” and falling in love, her school challenges (What a horrible teacher she had in one of the earlier grades!), and her love of books.

  4. Me too Connie. Don’t you love the way Betty Smith described Francie? As a mother and grandmother, I’m sure you’re always looking at your posterity and thinking about this or that little trait or characteristic.

    Hayden, have you ever been so determined that you’d spend six or more hours a day dedicated to a task or skill? I haven’t. I do,however, sometimes walk/jog 15 minutes longer than usual because of something I once read about a gold medalist. He attributed his success to the power of staying at it 15 minutes longer than anyone else. The interviewer sort of downplayed that until the medalist said that 15 minutes a day add up to over 90 hours a year. That struck home, and since that time, I’ve often thought of the value of minutes in making one’s dreams a reality.

  5. when i rerad a tree grows in booklyn, i could put me in every scene because she described my early childhood….i didn’t feel sorry for her just like i didn’t feel soprry for me…i wonder when people read my book they can put themslves in my sopt…i doubt it because i am so unique and i can’t believe anyone ever thinking of doing what i did

  6. Putz, I didn’t feel sorry for Francie either. She was so strong, intelligent, resilient, and resourceful that I mainly felt admiration for her. Plus, despite their many challenges, her family was close and seemed to enjoy life and each other’s company.

    When will we get to read your book???

  7. have you read nosurfgirls’s post on stephienie meyer’s edward??????oh that ‘s right, you are the one who counciled me on what i should read when i mentioned the shack by young…and all the ignoble enigma stuff on falling on my heaad, jr. high, high snow drifts, not calling girls are all from the book and are intersursed through my posts on putz

  8. I often think about the “bad” genes I received feet,temper, etc and the ones I missed out on: my mom’s creativity, handwriting, etc. Your post made me think of Good Genes!

  9. Michelle,it’ll be interesting to see what gifts your little blond haired tykes will demonstrate as years go by.

    Putz, it’s a great list…very noble.

  10. I don’t know the book but your musings are certainly interesting. I often think about things like that, especially when looking at my young children and wondering where life will take them. Already I can see qualities in them that they inherited from my husband’s and my families. My family is very inclined towards arts, sports and a good dose of science / mathematics thrown in there. My husband is an engineer so the science/maths is strong in him too, but he is also creative and artistic, and we both have musical backgrounds. So I do look out for these things in my children – with art appearing to be their strong points so far.

    I also wonder about the physical characteristics. I am white Australian with a strong English background, my husband is of Ukrainian / Eastern European descent – and I can sometimes see it like when I was watching the Olympics and noting the physical characteristics of the different nationalities. It was fascinating to see how my kids have inherited a European look, more so than looking like my family!

    I love the diversity of humanity 🙂

  11. Fikalo, Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such a great post. I too love the diversity of humanity and am awed by it. I’ve read that all of our DNA is 99.9 percent the same…everyone is that much alike. And yet that one little .1 is what makes us so unique.

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