January Dreams

January for me was all about dreams. I first began the month by making my dreams of visiting The Big Apple and The City of Lights during Christmas time come true. Then, in the weeks following, I got to read about two young girls striving to make their dreams come true – Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and Madeline Altamari from the book 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas.

I've already shared a little bit with you about A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Over the course of a week, I went from being only 92 pages in to being 496 pages in and finished. It was a fast read and one I wasn't thrilled to give up on even as I came upon the last few chapters. 

The story begins with Francie Nolan's parents who are 17 and 19 when they discover they are pregnant. The children of immigrants, dad is a dreamer and mom is a hard-worker. While they try to pull a life together for their children, the truth is they are poor and struggling. The family lives off of pennies, nickels, and dimes saving as much as they can and buying the cheapest of scraps for food. Written as a bildungsroman novel, we follow the development of Francie and how her life changes from birth until her late teens. What will become of her? Will she be able to escape the seemingly unsurmountable poverty that defines her existence up until this point?

Honestly, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a lovely read. Even though it wasn't my first time reading it, I had forgotten almost everything. The story starts a little slow and seems to end rather abrupt, but the details in between are simply glorious! Betty Smith paints a beautiful picture of poverty in the early 1900s. You can almost feel how difficult life is for Katie Nolan trying to get her children through primary school even when all of the other mothers are pulling their children out of school to send them to work. And then there is the relationship between Francie and her father – how delightful it is to see a story in which the little girl admires her father even through his faults! And oh dear, his faults! Betty Smith writes in such a way that you can't even blame Johnny Nolan for those faults! All of the characters are absolutely delightful and perfect (in imperfection, that is) and the book is chock full of emotion! I very much enjoyed it. :)

As for recommendations?

This is a great book for those who:
• love the fast pace of New York
• are female (because the main character is female and thus easy to relate to)
• are a child at heart
• can feel and like to feel all of the emotions when reading
• know a bit about their familial history and how many generations back they became American
• want to read a classic American novel

Next up was Marie-Helene Bertino's 2 A.M at the Cat's Pajamas, a book I also completed within a week's time.

A few days short of her tenth birthday, Madeline's biggest desire in all of the world is to sing jazz. Christmas is coming and Madeline has just had the worst day at school. The nurse checked all of the kids for lice and found some in Maddie's hair. Not only does she have to go home, but all of the kids made fun of her too. Then she got kicked out of school for getting into a fight. At home her dad is in one of his moods and has locked himself in his room … and her dog ran away. Could this day get any worse?

Up the street Lorca, owner of the Cat's Pajamas, a jazz night club, is also having a difficult night. He has to raise $30,000 overnight or the club will close.

And somewhere else in Philadelphia, Sarina, Maddie's teacher, is trying to make amends with her old high school crush. 

Bertino's novel brings together all 3 of these stories, Maddie's, Sarina's, and Lorca's and weaves them together as she goes hour by hour sharing their trials and tribulations on the eve of Christmas eve.

While the combination of the stories is a fun and interesting way to pull together 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas, I must admit that I found it all a bit confusing. It's the kind of book where you read it once and have no idea what's happening … and then read it again with more understanding. If you read this interview with Bertino, she shares more about how she pulled the story together and the many themes surrounding the characters and plotline. One of the best quotes she uses to describe her story is this: 
"I think enhanced realism is the right term for The Cat’s Pajamas. Throughout the book, there is something you cannot quite put your finger on, something shifting just outside of your sight. It turns out to be the surrealist aspects, but for the majority of the novel everything does obey the laws of physics. Enhanced realism is maybe about 15 percent of the novel, depending on where you stand on the role of music."
I can't say that 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas is one of my favorite books, but it was definitely an interesting read, especially after glancing through the interview with Bertino. All of a sudden, rather than seeing a conglomeration of facts that don't make a whole lot of sense and names that don't stick with me, I can now begin to see the song the author was trying to sing – the main verse, the backup, the key changes, the theme… It all looks nice spelled out, but, unfortunately, it was just not a book I could easily relate to.

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas would be a good read for:
• people who like INTENSE books
• people who have time to dissect the story and read it more than once
• people who are into and understand jazz (far more than I ever will)

And with that, the month of January has come to a close. Just as every night ends, so must my dreaming. Time to get back to work.

Have you had the chance to read either A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas? What did you think of January 2016? Was it a good month for you? A so-so month? Did any of your dreams come true?

Buy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn here and 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas here.

* I received 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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