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A Tree Grows In Brooklyn [Paperback]

Betty Smith
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (381 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 6 2005 Perennial Classics

The American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Frequently Bought Together

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn + To Kill a Mockingbird
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A profoundly moving novel, and an honest and true one. It cuts right to the heart of life. . . . If you miss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you will deny yourself a rich experience.” (New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Jan. 11 2007
This is a novel to be read and enjoyed for many different reasons. As an initial matter, it paints a portrait of Brooklyn at the turn of the twentieth century. Many books contain descriptions, but this book contains something more. I could hear the chaos on the streets, including the noisy children, horses and vendors. I could smell and taste the coffee that Francie's mother left boiling on the stove at all hours of the day and night. It went beyond mere description--this novel involved all of my senses and made me truly feel what it was like to live in that time and place.

Beyond the amazing imagery is a somewhat simple story of a family in crisis. Johnny, the father, drinks too much and can't hold a job but is the light and life of the family. Katie, the mother, loves her family ferociously, but has been imbittered by the strain that Johnny and their perpetual state of poverty places upon her. The story truly belongs to Francie and Neely, the two children, who survive by staying together, inventing stories and games for each other, and finding joy in their meager surroundings.

The most noteworthy aspect of the novel, to me, was its utter anger. I have heard Steinbeck's Travels with Charley described as "an angry book". A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was much angrier. Francie's childlike but astute observations concerning how society ignores the needs and struggles of the working poor explode with anger. Francie's shining moment is when she shames the doctor who comments in front of her that all poor people are dirty, without thinking that she and her brother can understand him. Sissy's shining moment is when she shames Francie's teacher who ignores poor children to the point that she fails to release them to use the bathroom, causing them to have humiliating accidents.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN AMERICAN CLASSIC... Dec 10 2007
By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER
Written over sixty years ago, time has not diminished the capacity of this book to capture the reader's heart. This coming of age story that takes place in turn of the century Brooklyn will simply enthrall the reader with its descriptive passages and its richly developed characters. This book survives the passage of time without becoming anachronistic, because the themes upon which it touches are universal ones.

The story centers on the Nolan family. The central character is the daughter, Mary Frances Nolan. Known as "Francie" to all and sundry, she is an intelligent child growing up in poverty in the tenements of Brooklyn with her charming father, a singing waiter and an alcoholic, her hard-working and practical, no-nonsense mother, and her younger brother, who enjoys favored son status in his mother's heart. Surrounding the family are a host of characters that are richly drawn and serve to add to the ambiance of the story as it enfolds.

The events that transpire in the book are seen through Francie's eyes. Her family's struggle with poverty, her father's alcoholism, her mother's steely-eyed determination to keep her family afloat, and Francie's thirst for knowledge and desire for higher education all serve to make this child strong and thrive, where others might only despair. Such is Francie's strength of character. It is that strength that helps her to battle her self-doubts, her loneliness, and lack of friends, while growing up.

This is a beautifully rendered story, a true American classic that will keep the reader turning its pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've lived it--and a tree really does grow Feb. 8 2005
When I got this book, I had a warm feeling because I knew it was a classic and because I rarely get American books. I experienced the same thing with a copy of THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD and the great and compelling novel by Steinbeck titled OF MICE AND MEN. I think this is a good choice. A good thing about this book is that Betty Smith tells all about every member of the Rommely and Nolan families, as well as other people, even though this isn't important to the plot. She isn't realistic the way modern children's writers are, but she gives lots of little details. I love the parts about the Catholic religion. My favorite character is Mary Rommely, and I enjoy daydreaming of being cared for by her or Sissy. I like the part where she tells Katie how to raise her daughter. This could be used in real life, even today. Katie is very smart, hard-working and strong-willed. Sometimes she seems too stern, but other times she is kind and understanding. I can most identify with Francie when she argues with her teacher, Miss Gardner over her writing. Also, same as her, I keep imagining things, so I liked the part when she's told to write down stories instead of speaking lies. (Only writing takes much more effort!) I think part of what it makes this a serious novel is that sometimes little sad details are included. I don't mean the kind describing the cruel school system, but softer ones: the father Johnny being a bum; Francie and Katie knowing it would never again be all right between them. However, there are also some parts telling of good times. This is a good book to read, and after you've read it, you can browse through it again and enjoy your favorite parts separately.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction page-turner! July 1 2004
I bought this book mainly because I had always seen it on high school book lists but never read it while I was in high school, and thought I should read it. It turned out to be so much better than I'd expected! I couldn't put it down - loved it. Francie is a great character. It's both very interesting to read about her life in Brooklyn in the early 1900's and hear about her conflicts with her mother as she gets older and more independent - a timeless theme. Francie's aunt is probably the most colorful, standout character. Many (particularly in that era) would disapprove of much of her behavior, but she is in the end far more generous and loving than many "religious" people who frown on her.
The book also has the potential to get kids (and adults too) to think about how they would have coped with the life and situations in the book. For example, how would they feel had they been completely responsible for younger siblings when they themselves were only five years old? Would they have been strong-willed enough to find a way to get to college while still helping her family as Francie did? Some great discussion points. It could also be a good way to connect to family stories from the older generations. ("Wow, Grandma did that too, huh?")
The book is definitely most appropriate for mature middle school children, high schoolers or adults. Although the language level is not all that difficult, the book is long (although a quick read) and deals with some "adult situations" - the pain of childbirth, sex out-of-wedlock, even a brief touch on methods of ending an unwanted pregnancy, etc. But for all those reasons, it makes a fabulous read.
Get the book for the rich descriptions of both the neighborhood and the characters, and just overall a great read. (And if you like stories such as this, visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City if ever you're there!)
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet, so well written. Takes you back in ...
Bittersweet, so well written. Takes you back in time. Found myself taking my time to read as I did not want it to end.
Published 1 month ago by Armstrong Bandit
5.0 out of 5 stars Really enjoyed this book!
Loved this book about a child growing up in poverty, told through her eyes. The subject doesn't seem very uplifting, but somehow the book really was! Read more
Published 1 month ago by T Leigh
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a very good read.
Published 2 months ago by mbwoolridge Betty Woolridge
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic!
A story of an ordinary family struggling to make ends meet in difficult times. It could almost be 'the book about nothing', yet like the comedy show with the same catch line, I... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Susan G
5.0 out of 5 stars First Metaphors to Lean Upon
I was 10 years old when I read this wonderful book about a strong mother and an equally strong tree outside her apartment window. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Eleanor Cowan
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Classic
A beautiful story set in Brooklyn--Williamsburg really--when it was a neighbourhood for the poor. It documents one family, as seen through the eyes of its protagonist, through its... Read more
Published 8 months ago by onlygoodbooksplease
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
This book is truly brilliant. It is really beautifully written, thought-provoking, evocative and moving; a real classic and definite must-read!
Published 12 months ago by Angela B
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not write wonderful character books like this anymore!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a wonderful story of love and family where love wins out and love endures in spite of imperfections and adversity. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Anne Duemo
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching, Inspiring, Hard to Put Down
I picked this book up on the recommendation of a friend, who mentioned that reading it made her feel rich in comparison to the family in the book. Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2011 by CanadianMother
5.0 out of 5 stars Francie Nolan's Story Survives Like the Tree that Grows in Brooklyn
This story of a girl who comes of age just before the Roaring Twenties of the 20th century reaches across the changes of the last 100 years to resonate just as powerfully today. Read more
Published on May 16 2011 by Genevieve DuGas
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