Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith (1948)

Tomorrow Will be Better by Betty Smith

Betty Smith’s first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), was a tough act to follow. And while her subsequent novels were all solid efforts, they didn’t achieve the phenomenal success of her debut. Tomorrow Will Be Better (1948), Smith’s second novel, is still very much worth discovering.

The families depicted in Tomorrow Will Be Better — the Shannons and the Malones — might be fictional neighbors of the Nolan family of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Set in the tenements of Brooklyn in the 1920s, it’s a quintessentially American tale of pursuing dreams in the face of obstacles — not the least of which is poverty. 

Margy Shannon, a young woman filled with hope, is central to the narrative. In search of happiness and a better life, she faces disappointment with fortitude and dignity. As the review that follows noted, “Miss Smith has written a quiet, warm book about people she obviously knows and loves well.”

In a tribute to this novel in Vol. 1 Brooklyn (“Playing Checkers in Brooklyn: Hope and Resilience in Betty Smith’s Wartime Fiction”), Marcie McCauley comments:

“With HarperCollins’ November 2020 reprint of Betty Smith’s second novel, Tomorrow Will Be Better (1948), readers are reminded how infrequently working-class readers have seen their lives represented in fiction. More than seven decades after the launch of Betty Smith’s writing career, her focus on low-wage and no-wage families in fiction still stands out.

Even more remarkable, contemporary journalism echoes some of the story elements of Betty Smith’s historical novels. Many aspects of financial hardship in the 20th century are consistent with financial hardship in the 21st century.”

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Betty Smith young

Betty Smith
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A reissued classic

In late 2020, HarperPerennial Modern Classics reissued Tomorrow Will Be Better for a new generation of readers. From the publisher:

From Betty Smith, author of the beloved classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, comes a poignant story of love, marriage, poverty, and hope set in 1920s Brooklyn.

Tomorrow Will Be Better tells the story of Margy Shannon, a shy but joyfully optimistic young woman just out of school who lives with her parents and witnesses how a lifetime of hard work, poverty, and pain has worn them down.

Her mother’s resentment toward being a housewife and her father’s inability to express his emotions result in a tense home life where Margy has no voice. Unable to speak up against her overbearing mother, Margy takes refuge in her dreams of a better life. 

Her goals are simple—to find a husband, have children, and live in a nice home—one where her children will never know the terror of want or the need to hide from quarreling parents. When she meets Frankie Malone, she thinks her dreams might be fulfilled, but a devastating loss rattles her to her core and challenges her life-long optimism. 

As she struggles to come to terms with the unexpected path her life has taken, Margy must decide whether to accept things as they are or move firmly in the direction of what she truly wants. 

Rich with the flavor of its Brooklyn background, and filled with the joys and heartbreak of family life, Tomorrow Will Be Better is told with a simplicity, tenderness, and warmhearted humor that only Betty Smith could write. 

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A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

You might also like: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
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A 1948 review of Tomorrow Will be Better

From the original review in The Times of San Mateo, CA, August 1948: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has produced a shoot in Betty Smith’s second novel, Tomorrow Will Be Better. In fact, the Shannons and the Malones might be neighbors of those who peopled her first book.

It is a simple, authentic story of people’s stubborn pursuit of their dreams, their refusal to recognize a stern reality as anything but temporary. She writes with meticulous care and sympathetic skill of people faced with poverty a step above grinding, and clinging to hope a cut above pretensions.

Seeking love and plenty

Gentle, shy Margy Shannon wanted happiness — a husband, children, and a home which would know good humor, peace, love, and plenty. It is a story of Margy’s search for happiness, half understanding it had slipped away from her, but never giving up hope of it.

The Shannon home was dominated by nagging, frustrated Flo, bitter, irascible, and yet with a pent-up core of real love for her daughter. Her husband, Henny, feeling his own inadequacy, fought back a little. But Margy, loving and somewhat understanding her parents, thought only of escaping.

Facing the disappointments of marriage

So she married he first boy who “dated” her, Frankie Malone. Frankie came from the same poverty and the same way of life. It wasn’t the kind of marriage that Margy dreamed about — but she never lost hope that it would be, one day. Miss Smith has written a quiet, warm book about people she obviously knows and loves well.

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Betty Smith-Tomorrow Will Be Better

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