Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.
Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.
Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—certainly there are many similarities. Primary among them is the fact that Annie is a lot like Francie—childlike, optimistic, and always hopeful that things will be better. They both come from the same backgrounds and have similar kinds of mothers. Even the story of the sailor and the caul is identical in both books. The difference between them is that Annie is growing up in this novel—she goes through a significant amount of change as she makes the transition from childhood to adulthood. And she’s thrown into adulthood rather fast…
Because this novel is so autobiographical, Annie is the stronger of the two main characters; although the story isn’t written in the first person, we basically see everything from her point of view. This is a realistic book, depicting the characters and their straitened without rose-colored glasses. Although not married myself and lacking any background with which to sympathize, I enjoyed this book. However, I still don’t think it’s quite as good as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.