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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by betty smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (original 1943; edition 2001)

by betty smith, anna quindlen (Foreword)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
11,224322250 (4.32)1 / 776
Title:A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Authors:betty smith
Other authors:anna quindlen (Foreword)
Info:harper perennial (2001), Paperback, 493 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, historical fiction, children, New York, Brooklyn, childhood

Work details

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

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1940s (9)

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English (309)  Spanish (5)  All (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All (320)
Showing 1-5 of 309 (next | show all)
I think I would have loved this book if I'd first read it when I was 13 or 14. It's the sort of book that makes you grasp for words like "poignant", "touching", "heart-warming" and - I tremble at the thought - "evocative".

It's an unexpected mix of a classic 19th-century aspirational self-improvement narrative with some early 20th century social realism - very much in the tradition of Dickens and Louisa M Alcott, but with a few shovelfuls of Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck (maybe even D.H. Lawrence) influence thrown in.

There are some witty and superbly inventive bits of writing, and it's not surprising that people fall in love with the book. The opening chapter would make a fantastic short story. The descriptions of what it feels like to live in poverty ring true, and stick with you even if you've read a hundred other books about that kind of life or heard about it first hand from your grandparents.

But the book is almost 500 pages long. We know more or less from the outset where the plot is headed, but it takes it forever to get there, and there are plenty of lead-footed moments: the narrator's interminable moralistic voice-overs, the almost vomit-inducing steadfastness and strength of character of Francie and her mother Katie, the protracted and constantly foreshadowed downfall of the alcoholic father, the improbable deus ex machina who plucks them out of the gutter with all the subtlety of the final chapter of a Dickens novel, etc., etc.

Fun, but not a book I would put in my suitcase for the proverbial desert island. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jul 1, 2017 |
Why did I read this?
This is known as a great American classic which means that I should have read it at some point along the way. People were always so surprised that I could have a degree in English and no knowledge of this book. Meaning, I knew it existed but other than that I went into this knowing barely anything about the story besides the fact that "it's just one of the greatest books." Why would I want to miss out on one of the greatest books? It's been on my TBR for quite awhile and there is no time like the present, right?

What is this book really about?
This book is about a family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early 1900s. They have very little to their name and have to work hard just to get enough food in their bellies. At the very core, it's basically the quintessential American Dream tale.

It's also a coming-of-age tale as the reader grows up with the family, mainly Francie. Her lack of wealth and status isn't what makes her who she is. As the narration mentions:

“She was made up of more, too. She was the books she read in the library. She was the flower in the brown bowl. Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie's secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father stumbling home drunk. She was all of these things and of something more...It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life - the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike.”

The reader has the privilege to learn about all these different aspects of this one person and by the end you may find that you will remember Francie for a long time to come. If you are a big reader then I think it's safe to say that you will find a portion of yourself in Francie and may even add her to your list of fictional friends.

What most resonated with me?
I'm about to become a parent for the very first time so I found a conversation Katie (Francie's mother) has with her own mother, after the birth of her first child, to be particularly insightful. During this conversation Katie expresses her worry that she won't be able to raise this child as she knows so little and has so little. Her mother talks about how in this country there is hope and possibility. She encourages Katie to do what she can to educate the child and help to foster her imagination. She also encourages Katie to save money and buy herself a piece of land. I found this conversation to be moving. All you want as a parent is for your children to succeed in whatever they choose and to be happy and you can contribute to that even if you don't have much or know much.

What annoyed me most?
There was one area where I found that I just could not relate to Francie, her soldier Lee and her sudden devotion and love for him. I have very little patience for silly girls and boys who decide after a minute of knowing someone that they are destined to be with this person and then proceed to pledge their undying love. It's absurd and that entire section made me cringe. I understand that Francie is fairly naive but come on!

What did I learn?
I learned, from Francie, perseverance. Despite all of the obstacles that stand in her way she finds a way to make her dreams come true by obtaining an education. Even though she is knocked down time and time again and consistently told no, she finds a way to work around that and to keep moving towards her dream. This is something that I need to work harder to do.

Should this be labeled an American classic?
Most definitely! As mentioned earlier this is the quintessential tale of the American Dream! This story and stories like this capture the hopes my own ancestors had when they arrived in the United States. I'm surprised this wasn't ever required reading for me at any point throughout my education because it is a book that captures this time is America so well.

Quote I Love:
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood." ( )
  Emma_Manolis | Jun 27, 2017 |
An extraordinary book from beginning to end. This is definitely on my list of all time favorite books. ( )
  jaconstancio | Jun 26, 2017 |
Inspiring story. I wish I had the steel of the Rommely women.

I could definitely relate to the part about working young, and having to grow up a little bit faster than your peers. Like Francie, I also had to drop out of school to work, to help out my family, and send my younger siblings to school. Then only later on when I'd saved enough did I try to catch up with everybody else. The part about the graduation bouquet from her dad made me cry. My dad wasn't at my graduation. He did attend my brother's though, the day after. Francie, I know how you feel, to try so hard and still not have it be enough for a parent, and yet you continue trying.

Skipped some parts about the war coming, because they were foreign to me. I'm also sure I missed a few other allusions to events in American history.

I liked how the brother and sister got along. I wonder how that must feel like.

It's a bit of a fairytale though, isn't it? In the end, Francie gets a boyfriend who has a solid career ahead of him, and a kind, rich man marries their mom and solves most of their other problems. I wish I also had a similar happy ending. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
Story of a poor family in turn of the twentieth century Brooklyn and how Francie, the heroine, tries to better herself. Smith gives us a loving portrait of that time, place and characters and is not afraid to tackle a sexual predator and an unwed mother, taboo subjects at the time of writing.

Highly recommended. ( )
  janerawoof | Jun 19, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 309 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (73 possible)

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 (1)

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)

(see all 9 descriptions)

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)

» see all 14 descriptions

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