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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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10,520303271 (4.34)1 / 708
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 (5)

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English (290)  Spanish (5)  French (1)  Chinese, traditional (1)  Italian (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (300)
Showing 1-5 of 290 (next | show all)
This was a reading assignment in school when I was about 13. I read the book again years later and liked it much better than when I was forced to read it. In reading it the second time I realized that I had seen the movie made from the book. The story was, over all, excellent. The central character was so realistic; I expected to find her sitting in my living room. ( )
  Carol420 | May 31, 2016 |
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – B. Smith
Audio performance by Carrington Macduffie
4 stars

Francie Nolan grows, as the tree does, in early 20th century Brooklyn. Francie understands hunger, poverty, and the rough and tumble of the streets. She also knows family solidarity, the value of honest work and the desire for a better life. Her story evokes a very specific time and place, but it is also a timeless tribute to the human condition.


This book has been recommended for ages 10 and up. I think I was between 11 and 12 years old the first time I read it; against my mother’s wishes. After so many years I was only able to remember a vague outline of the book. A few of the ‘mature’ scenes were fixed a bit more in my memory as the particular features that troubled my mother. I did not remember how much the book was a vehicle for social and psychological commentary. I certainly did not realize how much Francie’s life was similar to my grandmother’s childhood. My grandmother was the eldest of thirteen children. Like Francie, her father was an alcoholic. My great-grandmother cleaned houses for a living.

When Betty Smith wrote of Francie’s desperate desire for a doll, I thought of my grandmother’s story about her one and only doll. It was a special doll with eyes that opened and closed. Her brothers took a hammer to its head to see how the eyes worked.
( I remember one of my great-uncles saying “Geeze, Gladdy, I’ll buy you another doll! Will you quit talking about it!)

My great-grandfather must have been like Jonny Nolan. He contributed very little to supporting his huge family, but I never heard my grandmother or any of her siblings say anything against him. (As far as they were concerned, he was a talented writer. He wrote poetry.)

When Katie Nolan gives birth to her youngest child with only her sisters to help, I remembered the first time my husband met my great–grandmother. She pulled him right in and gave him the full family tree, explaining that only her thirteenth child had been born in a hospital, “And I don’t think he was ever paid for.”

Both of my maternal grandparents left school at 14 to help support their families. My paternal grandfather had less than 3 years of formal schooling. My mother was born in the year of the stock market crash, and although she did graduate from high school, there was little cash to spare in her childhood. My childhood was quite different; protected from the ‘mature’ topics of a book like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’m very glad that I returned to this book. It reminds me of where I come from and of who worked hard to make my life so easy.

( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
I get this book, and I know it's a classic. And I value the quality of the author's vivid descriptions. But this was too much. In a 500-page book, you need either more levity or more action to get you through it. I cared about the characters from the start, so I worked through it. And I'm glad they got happy endings, albeit tinged with sadness and nostalgia from the tough lives they lived up to that point. ( )
  LauraCerone | May 26, 2016 |
Plenty of reviews for this book, so here are my reactions to the story. It was interesting. I learned quite a few things which I didn't know before because my experience with family history and stories has always been about pioneers and farming. While the little girl in this story was struggling to survive in Brooklyn, my grandparents were on farms working hard, living like "Little House on the Prairie". Reading this was like looking through a window at another time and place to see how people lived there. I didn't identify with any of the characters, except maybe with Francie's love of reading. That's what made it so interesting was the complete foreignness of it to my experiences.

There is also a warmth and wisdom to the book. It is a story not only of survival, but of triumph and hope. ( )
  MrsLee | May 10, 2016 |
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 |
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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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