A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

eBook - 2003
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A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

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

From the moment she entered the world, Francie Nolan needed to be made of stern stuff, for the often harsh life of Williamsburg demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family's erratic and eccentric behavior--such as her father Johnny's taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy's habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce--no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans' life lacked drama. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the Nolans' daily experiences are tenderly threaded with family connectedness and raw with honesty. Betty Smith has, in the pages of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, captured the joys of humble Williamsburg life-from "junk day" on Saturdays, when the children of Francie's neighborhood traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry. Betty Smith has artfully caught this sense of exciting life in a novel of childhood, replete with incredibly rich moments of universal experiences--a truly remarkable achievement for any writer.

Publisher: Pleasantville, N.Y. : PerfectBound, 2003.
ISBN: 9780061803024
Branch Call Number: eBook overdrive
Characteristics: 1 online resource.
Additional Contributors: Overdrive, Inc


From Library Staff

"A young girl in a shabby neighborhood lives with dreams in an innocent time before the war." - Novelist

From the critics

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Mar 11, 2020

I have always loved this book, and I don't even really know why! Maybe it's the grit and determination of the main character, Francie, and her younger brother, Neeley - maybe it's her lovable family: her parents, Johnny and Katie; her aunts Evy and Sissy; and other characters we meet along the way - Officer McShane, Frank & Flossie, Drummer the horse, storekeepers, people Francie passes on the street every day. She's a lonely child, a quiet-hearted child, but she knows she must rise above her circumstances to make a better life for herself. Growing up dirt-poor, chasing penny after penny, lying about her age in order to work, Francie is an intelligent girl who leans on faith, simplicity, and hard work to get where she wants to be. You will fall in love with her and her story. I could read this book over and over again and not get tired of it :)

Feb 23, 2020

This is one of the most hopeful books I've ever read. I never read it in high school. It's amazing!

Jan 17, 2020

"and that where the hole trouble is" thought Francie. "we're too much alike to understand each other because we dont even understand our own selves. Papa and i were too different persons and we understood each other."
Francie on her relationship with her mother

Jun 26, 2019

Just life, nothing personal. Excellent!

Jun 09, 2019

This amazing book was as good to read as an adult as when I read it as a 12 year old. It really is a classic.

I loved this book. It is an honest coming-of-age-story about a young girl. I loved the multicultural setting of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the height of immigration to New York City. An American classic, much better than the movie. Such a delightful read! (submitted by JM)

Mar 22, 2018

Such a beautiful and often melancholy novel.

Nov 29, 2017

What a beautiful story. I can't believe I have overlooked it for so long. Francie's life is like that tree that grows in the backyard of her Brooklyn apartment. It finds a way to thrive no matter what the circumstance. As I read Francie's story, I made notes on so many phrases and paragraphs throughout the book.

There is a pivotal moment in Francie's life when her teacher teaches her the difference between truth and fiction. After confessing to her teacher that she has concocted a false story so that she could take a small pie home for herself, the teachers says, "In the future, when something comes up, you tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened." This was an epiphany for 10-yr-old Francie. In conjunction with this idea, there is a quote in the appendix of the edition I read from Betty Smith's daughter: "She often said about 'Tree' that she didn't write it the way it was, but the way it should have been."

I would also add that the foreword by Anna Quindlen is a wonderful addition to this printing. Having seen her speak at a library event last spring, I could hear her voice as I read the forward. It was quite a wonderful preview of this classic story of urban struggle and triumph. Highly recommended!

HMWLibrary2017 Jul 14, 2017

Simple and straightforward, but yet magical in its familiarity and universality. A classic for a good reason.

Mar 05, 2017

Just like "To Kill A Mockingbird" (which was written by Harper Lee) - "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" (which was written by Betty Smith, aka. Elisabeth Wehner) is definitely another true classic of American literature penned by a female author.

Smith was 46 when she wrote this book. It was her own experiences as a young girl (growing up in poverty) that served as the framework for this first novel. Upon its initial publication in 1943 it was an immense success.

This touching, heartfelt, coming-of-age story clearly addresses many issues, such as, survival in the slums, dealing with an alcoholic parent, and the tenacious determination to rise above difficult circumstances.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn opens in the year 1912 where we meet 11-year-old Francie Nolan who relies on her fertile imagination and her love of reading to provide a temporary escape from the poverty that defines her daily existence.

Betty Smith, subsequently, wrote 3 other novels in her lifetime. She died in 1972 at the age of 75.

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Add Age Suitability
Jul 02, 2019

navy_owl_217 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Feb 12, 2018

gjrainey thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Apr 01, 2015

juniap thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 12 and 99

Sep 23, 2014

julia_sedai thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

platypus101 Jul 11, 2013

platypus101 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

rhonda65 May 03, 2011

rhonda65 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


Add a Quote
Jan 27, 2020

"and that where the hole trouble is" thought Francie. "we're too much alike to understand each other because we dont even understand our own selves. Papa and i were too different persons and we understood each other." Francie on her relationship with her mother

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 06, 2016

Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

Jul 01, 2015

“The world was hers for the reading.”

"you didn't see the dirt or the meanness; you saw the glory of innocence and the poignancy of a baby growing up too soon."

Jun 26, 2014

"There had to be the dark and muddy waters so that the sun could have something to background its flashing glory" (Smith 165).


Add a Summary

This book follows the life of young Frances (Francie) Nolan. It takes you through her hard life in Brooklyn where Francie soon learns to take care of herself and others having to make sacrifices from a young age for the ones she loves. Francie's thoughtful insight teach many life lessons though seen from her perspective. This novel takes time and you grow alongside with the somewhat out of place Francie, and as it is her life story some readers may find it dull...My first read of this author and very good overall.

platypus101 Jul 11, 2013

The title of this novel refers to a tree that grows persistently up through the concrete and harsh conditions of a poor tenement neighborhood in early 1900s Brooklyn. But it is also a metaphor for the novel's protagonist, Francie Nolan. She is a sweet, innocent girl who grows and flourishes despite a harsh environment of neglect and poverty.

Jul 31, 2012

This novel centers on Francie Nolan's coming-of-age in 1910s and 1920s Brooklyn. Francie starts the novel as a poor 11-year-old girl who loves to read with an alcoholic father who she feels she understands and vice versa. They are both sentimental and talented. Francie's breadwinning mother does not have as healthy as a relationship with her daughter - she favors Francie's younger brother and "always has to have the last word." The novel is character-centric, and has little semblance of a plot


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