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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)

by Betty Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
12,000345311 (4.33)1 / 816
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1940s (10)

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English (329)  Spanish (5)  Italian (3)  Chinese, traditional (1)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (342)
Showing 1-5 of 329 (next | show all)
Francie Nolan is one of the most complex and reverant portraits of a smart girl coming of age. I loved this book because of the characters and the encompassing sense of love that permeated the book. The kind of love that isn't touched by poverty, tragedy, or circumstance. I adored this book. ( )
  koharteh | Sep 19, 2018 |
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A classic coming of age novel where a young girls love of reading leads to strength and perseverance.


A young girl’s coming of age story at the turn-of-the-century. It’s about hope and perseverance in times of adversity. Francie Nolan grows up in the tenements of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. The story is about the daily struggles of a young and innocent Francie, her younger brother Neeley, and her parents Katie and Johnny. Francie relies on her imagination and her love of reading to escape the poverty and difficulties that define her life. The narrarator describes the trials and tribulations of the Nolan family as seen through the eyes of Francie.

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving semi-autobiographical story of Betty Smith’s life. The book, first published in 1943, was Smith’s first novel. She sold the film rights to the book and a movie directed by Elia Kazan was produced in 1945.

The book is a family drama, that is at times overwhelming, uplifting, frustrating, and heartbreaking. Smith captures all the significant moments of Francie’s life and shares them in a rich manner, including Francie’s difficult school experiences, her first job, and her first boyfriend. The constant that you see is that like a tree that struggles to grows without sun or water, Francie, despite hardships is persistent and determined to fulfill her dreams of going to college.

One of more moving parts of the book is Katie’s determination that her children will be educated, so as to have a better life. She reads to them every night before going to bed from both the Bible and a book of Shakespeare. Francie’s love of reading instill by her mother, is evident when she gets older and visits the library and is determined to read every book there, all in spite of a librarian who does not like children.

Each character is extremely well developed, from Francie’s alcoholic father who had difficulty holding a job, to man-loving “Aunt Sissy” who had trouble having a baby. But none more than Francie, with a vivid imagination and a love for reading and writing. The book is heavily weighted with honesty and soulfulness. Smith captures the period and the poverty of the family and treats them with grace and dignity. The writing was fluid and the story was smartly structured into 5 parts covering different periods of Francie’s life.
Publisher HarperAudio
Published August 12, 2005 (Audible)
Narrator Kate Burton
Review www.bluestockingreviews.com

“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.” ( )
1 vote LisaSHarvey | Aug 19, 2018 |
This story is set in Brooklyn in 1912 through 1917. It follows the life of a poor family, the Nolans, mainly from the point of view of the precocious Francie. I really liked it, I thought it was an easy read, the characters were likable and relatable. I even liked Johnny (the drunken father), I have a soft spot for characters who are truthful with themselves. He knew he was a drunk, he tried to do right by his family, but he never denied what he was. I think stopping drinking is what actually killed him, he was going through withdrawal and that is why his hands shook so. I loved that Francie had a love of reading and how her mother cultivated it. I understand Katie's desperation to give her kids a better life than she had herself, I think that is what all parents want. I can relate to the being poor, although as a kid we weren’t that bad off, or if we were my parents did a better job of hiding it that Katie did. I didn’t like the ending though, the whole novel felt so real and gritty, and then the fairytale came true that they had enough money and the kids could finish school thanks to Daddy Warbucks, I mean officer McShane. If Francie had continued to fight and put herself through school it would have seemed much truer to the story to me and I would have been happier. But overall I liked the book.
For additional reviews please see my blog at www.adventuresofabibliophile.blogspot.com
  Serinde24 | Aug 17, 2018 |
4.5 stars. I'm tremendously sad to be leaving this book. ( )
  Jeeps | Jul 26, 2018 |
My initial impression of this well-known classic of a girl coming of age up in the early decades of the twentieth century was somewhat tepid. A girl from a poor family lived in the tenements of Brooklyn with her charming drunken Irish father, hard-working mother and younger brother whose mother preferred over his sister. About a third of the way in in, though, I realized that this was less a novel than a thinly disguised memoir of a woman's battle to free herself and her family from the grip of poverty. Sure, the names weren't exactly the same and her real father was German, not Irish, but essentially Francie Nolan's story was Betty Smith's account of her own childhood. It became, in essence, the American Angela's Ashes. Once I realized that this was someone pouring out their heart onto the pages, my attitude changed and I became totally engaged in the story. After all, wasn't it Ernest Hemingway, another writer and contemporary of Smith's, who said "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

My thanks to the folks at the The Great American Read group at Goodreads for giving me the opportunity to read and discuss this and many other fine books. ( )
  Unkletom | Jul 24, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 329 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (72 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Bettyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fields, AnnaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, BarnabyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kazin, AlfredAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagani, DanielaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pietribiasi, AntonellaTranslatorsecondary 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.

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