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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (original 1943; edition 1998)

by Betty Smith

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10,475299273 (4.34)1 / 701
Title:A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Authors:Betty Smith
Info:Perennial Classics (1998), Edition: 1st Perennial Classics ed, Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

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1940s (7)
1910s (59)

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English (287)  Spanish (5)  French (1)  Chinese, traditional (1)  Italian (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (297)
Showing 1-5 of 287 (next | show all)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In today's world, it's ground zero of the hipster renaissance. It's more expensive to live in Brooklyn lately than it is to live in Manhattan. But it wasn't always that way. A century ago, when A Tree Grows in Brooklyn takes place, Williamsburg was where the immigrants and/or poor people lived. People like Francie Nolan and her family.

If you're a fan of plot-driven novels, this probably isn't going to be the book for you. Nothing much really happens...two young people, the children of Irish and German immigrants, meet, fall in love, and marry. They have two children, a girl and a boy. The father, Johnny Nolan, is charming and sweet-natured but fundamentally weak, incapable of holding down a steady job because of his alcoholism. The mother, Katie Nolan, is strong-willed, hard-working and tries but fails to hide her preference for her son over her daughter. The family lives in poverty, barely scraping by, as the children grow up. Francie, the daughter, is the center of the story, and the plot is largely about her poor but otherwise mostly unremarkable childhood.

But for me personally, I didn't even really notice that there was less in the way of plot, because the characterization and quality of writing were so strong. The shy and bookish yet resilient Francie and her world were apparently an only thinly veiled version of author Betty Smith's own childhood experiences, and a feeling of lived emotional truth resonates throughout the novel. Smith's prose isn't showily beautiful like Vladimir Nabakov's, but she strikes home keen insights about childhood and growing up with elegance and sensitivity. The characters are all people that exist in the real world: the good-natured and lovable but ultimately feckless overgrown child, the harried parent who has to stay strong enough to keep it all together at the expense of their own emotional wants and needs, the standoffish person who holds themself apart and pre-rejects everyone else before they can be rejected, the younger sibling who manages to get away with more than the older sibling would have ever thought to try. It may be set 100 years ago, but the story it tells is still meaningful today. ( )
1 vote ghneumann | Apr 28, 2016 |
The beginning of this really swept me away - I loved it, but the spell wore off as the book continued. ( )
  BrydieWalkerBain | Apr 26, 2016 |
From our first year in bookclub. I don't think I would have ever heard of this book and am so glad I did. A come to age book about a girl who is saved by grit and education. If you liked The Glass Castle, you need to read this book. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
I refuse to assign stars to this book, because I have no idea how I would rate it. 5 stars is supposed to mean, "it was amazing". I firmly believe that yes, it was amazing. It made me think, I learned from it, I went through a gamut of emotions while reading it. Actually, no, I didn't go through a gamut of emotions, I experienced pretty much just one emotion - sadness and depression (oops, that is 2 emotions). I don't like 400+ pages of sadness and depression, so I really didn't like reading this book. Does that mean it is not amazing? No. It proves the author's stunning ability to make me feel the pain that the characters were feeling. Many people have compared this book to Little Women , but that is like comparing apples to oranges. There was always hope and love and laughter in Little Women , even through their hard times. Here there was starvation, squalor, loss and burned dreams. Oh, if only Francie could have had a Marmee! But Katie could never have been a Marmee, even if she had loved Francie as much as she loved Neeley, because her life was one big never-ending cycle of drudgery and disappointment. How did those people living in the tenements survive? And yet, they were tenacious, hard-working, tough as nails and full of pride. I couldn't help but think of how our welfare system seems to have killed those traits in people. Francie and her family would have rather starved than accept "charity" for work they didn't do. One of the parts of the book that stuck with me the most was Francie describing standing in line to buy stale bread. 6 loaves of stale bread fed the family for a week, and "what amazing things Katie could make from it!". There is a page and a half describing the suppers made from the loaves of stale bread.

Another section that resonated with me was Francie's visit to the library. She read a book a day and was determined to read every book in the library, so she started with author's whose last name began with A, and was up to "Brown". On Saturdays Francie would get her alphabetical book, but then treat herself with another book. She would always ask the librarian to suggest a good book for a girl. Without bothering to look up, the librarian would ask the age of the girl and Francie would say her age, which was 11 at the time.

Each week Francie made the same request and each week the librarian asked the same question. A name on a card meant nothing to her and since she never looked up into a child's face, she never did get to know the little girl who took a book out every day and two on Saturday. A smile would have meant a lot to Francie and a friendly comment would have made her so happy. She loved the library and was anxious to worship the lady in charge. But the librarian had other things on her mind. She hated children anyhow.

The librarian would then hand her one of two books as the only ones she would recommend for this poor, starved little piece of humanity. When Francie went back many years later and asked for a recommendation for an 11 year old girl, the same woman handed her one of the same books. As a middle school librarian who loves books and who loves my students, this woman's behavior was horrific to me. What a difference she could have made in that little girl's life! In case someone thinks I have forgotten that this is a work of fiction, I have not. However, I think that the librarian was portrayed accurately for that time and that location.

I read this book because I had just had some 6th grade classes in the library discussing "classics", and this was one of the books on my children's classics list that I had never read. I'm not quite sure why this would be classified as a "children's" classic when it deals with many and varied adult issues. As a parent, I would never have let my 6th grader read this book. High school - yes, but it is pretty gritty for middle schoolers.

While I can't say I enjoyed this book, I will say that it made a huge impression on me and made me very appreciative of the things I have and the ease of my life. There is a Tenement Museum in NYC that I would like to visit now that I have read about life in them.

Areas of concern:
*The sexual content is quite high. There is an aunt who is a "bad" girl and sleeps around with all sorts of men. There is a child sexual predator on the loose and there is a pretty graphic description when he gets his hands on the main character. Childbirth and breastfeeding are thoroughly discussed. There are some crude and vulgar references towards body parts and sex.
*Oh, so politically incorrect! There are slang terms and slurs against Jews, Italians, Irish... It is a true representation of the time and location, but it could be offensive to some.
*A handful of cuss words.
*The sadness and complete depressive tone of the whole book, with really very little sense of hope or redemption, could be disturbing for many (including me).

  Bduke | Apr 1, 2016 |
As I wrote in my updates , at first I was a bit disappointed. I guess I just expected a totally different book and nothing happened.It started out a bit slow.

Well I am so glad I kept reading cause this is such a great book! I can see why this is a classic and why after so many years this book is still loved by many.

There are a lot of details in this book but it made me really see the picture of Brooklyn in those days. Loved the main character and her family.
I did not want it to end.
( )
  Marlene-NL | Mar 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 287 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Bettyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fields, AnnaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, BarnabyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kazin, AlfredAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stasolla, MarioIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There's a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly. . .survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.
First words
Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.
Francie came away from her first chemistry lecture in a glow. In one hour she had found out that everything was made up of atoms which were in continual motion. She grasped the idea that nothing was ever lost or destroyed. Even if something was burned up or left to rot away, it did not disappear from the face of the earth; it changed into something else—gases, liquids, and powders. Everything, decided Francie after that first lecture, was vibrant with life and there was no death in chemistry. She was puzzled as to why learned people didn’t adopt chemistry as a religion.
Dear God, let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well-dressed. Let me be sincere- be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She is her father's child--romantic and hungry for beauty. But she is her mother's child, too--deeply practical and in constant need of truth. Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061120073, Paperback)

Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She is her father's child--romantic and hungry for beauty. But she is her mother's child, too--deeply practical and in constant need of truth. Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive. Betty Smith's poignant, honest novel created a big stir when it was first published over 50 years ago. Her frank writing about life's squalor was alarming to some of the more genteel society, but the book's humor and pathos ensured its place in the realm of classics--and in the hearts of readers, young and old. (Ages 10 and older) --Emilie Coulter

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:00 -0400)

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Young Francie Nolan, having inherited both her father's romantic and her mother's practical nature, struggles to survive and thrive growing up in the slums of Brooklyn in the early twentieth century.

(summary from another edition)

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