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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)

by Betty Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
13,223371308 (4.32)1 / 870
The story of the Nolan family, including daughter Francie, and life in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn during the early part of the 20th century.
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    'Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (kiwiflowa)
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    Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson (atimco)
    atimco: Both stories are semi-autobiographical and tell the story of a young, sensitive girl coming of age in a poor community. The heroines have similar family structures (attractive, hardworking mother, generally absent/weak father, younger brother who fits into his surroundings better than his older sister). The historical setting is very important to both works and almost acts as a character in its own right.… (more)
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    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (weener)
    weener: Another superb girl's coming-of-age novel!
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    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (readerbabe1984)
  8. 31
    Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (kiwiflowa)
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    The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane (JGoto)
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    The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy (RidgewayGirl)
    RidgewayGirl: Set in 1939, The Tin Flute is also a beautifully told coming of age story, this time of a young, working class French-Canadian girl in Quebec.
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    A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo (Benaleer)
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    The Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale (cometahalley)
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    The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride (iMagic)
    iMagic: My all time favorite book. A must read. Ruth McBride was a force to be reckoned with. Raised 12 phenomenal children. One of them wrote this book about her life as the daughter of an orthodox Jewish rabbi who later married the man who taught her how to live.
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    Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (FutureMrsJoshGroban)
    FutureMrsJoshGroban: The style of writing and realism in the portrayal of the characters is very similar.
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    Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (LadyBlakeny)

(see all 21 recommendations)

1940s (12)
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English (355)  Spanish (5)  Italian (3)  Catalan (2)  French (1)  Chinese, traditional (1)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (369)
Showing 1-5 of 355 (next | show all)
An authentic highly autobiographical portrait of a lost time and place. Also a writer’s coming-of-age story. ( )
  booksinbed | Jun 27, 2020 |
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. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
A story of aspiration.

This book starts off really strong, with 1912 Brooklyn as seen through 11-year-old Francie's eyes. A really immersive sense of growing up in that place and time in poverty. This section is called Book One.

After Book One the story really fell apart for me. In Book Two the narrative expands to all the relatives around Francie, and tells their lives in sordid detail. Moving into this very adult world is a very jarring change from the world viewed through Francie's eyes. I stopped reading.

Unabridged audiobook read by Kate Burton:
Well read by Kate Burton although I have no idea if the slight "Brooklyn" accents are anywhere near accurate. Occasional jarring musical interludes.
  rakerman | Jun 5, 2020 |
One of the best books I have ever read. Such vivid characters and brilliant storytelling. I'm so grateful that I finally read this masterpiece. ( )
  ShelfImprovement | May 27, 2020 |
Some well-meaning adult in my life gifted me this when I was a young teen, thinking it was a book I would enjoy. So I read it. And I hated it. I think this is one of those books that adults think children will get inspiration from because that's what the adults get from it. NOPE. I came out of this one (as a young teen) thinking it was in turns boring and gross and wondering why I wasted my time on it. One of the biggest results is that I refuse to re-read it now, when (as an adult) I might actually get something out of it. ( )
  ca.bookwyrm | May 18, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 355 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, BettyAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burton, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillard, Anniesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fields, AnnaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, BarnabyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kazin, AlfredAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagani, DanielaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pietribiasi, AntonellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quindlen, AnnaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stasolla, MarioIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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.
Dedication
First words
Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.
Quotations
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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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.
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