A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Title:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author:  Betty Smith
Release date:  1943
Publisher:  Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Pages:  528
Genre:  Adult fiction, Young adult fiction, Classic fiction
Source:  Personal copy

Before I started blogging a few years ago, I was a firm believer in “the classics are not for me”.  But I’ve started to come around, and now that I’ve read several classics that I’ve liked or even loved (and several I’ve hated, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete convert here!), I find myself more in the “I like some classics” camp.  Which is a huge step for me!  (So be proud, Eva and Nymeth!) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one example of this – I LOVED this book.  I cannot believe it took me twenty-six years of my life to discover my love for it!

In case you are unfamiliar with this novel, it is about Francie Nolan and her family, and it is set in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s.  We meet Francie when she is eleven years old in 1912, and the story continues through her sixteenth year.  Francie’s family is poor – her mother is a maid, who works tirelessly every day to put food on the table for her family, and her father is a singing waiter who works when he is sober enough to get a night’s pay.  So Francie and her brother, Neeley, one year younger, learn the hard way just how tough the world is – but they also learn life’s simple pleasures and what beauty lies in the small things.

There are SO many wonderful things about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Francie is such a great character, she is worldly and smart, wise beyond her years but also appropriate for the time period she was written in.  AND she is a reader too!  The chapter where Francie’s local library was described was like heaven to me.  I loved reading about how much she loved to read, about how she planned to read the entire selection of books her library carried, in alphabetical order, one book a day until she was finished.  Totally reminds me of myself when I was a kid – books were my comfort, as they are to Francie.  In hard times, she curls up and reads a book, the same thing I would do when I was facing difficult times as a kid.

And there’s quite a bit of feminism in this novel – Katie, Francie’s mother, basically is the sole earner in the home, and she bears this burden without an ounce of complaint.  She does what she has to do to get her family fed and taken care of properly, performing back-breaking labor every day because she would do anything to take care of her children.  She raises Francie and Neeley to be honest, good people and treats them with respect, even asking their opinions on important family matters at times.  When they ask her questions, she gives the most honest answers she knows how, which was something I loved about her.  So many parents try to sugar-coat things, or tell their children what they think they want to hear, but not Katie  – she told them the truth as she knew it.

I don’t know what else to say about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – I really loved it so much, the entire novel, everything about it just captivated and charmed me.  I think I’ll be rereading this one in the near future, because honestly, when I finished it I just wanted to turn it over and start it again!  If you’re like me and haven’t yet discovered this gem of a novel, read it.  It is such a beautiful, perfect novel.  LOVE.


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42 thoughts on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

    1. Ooh, how was the discussion? I bet it would be a fun read to do with a book club, because there is just SO much wonderfulness in the book. 🙂

  1. The last time I read any classic was back in high school and that was a while ago… I don’t have anything against them, but they just never really interested me… though I want to start some to see why they are classics – maybe this will be a good one to start!! Thanks for the wonderful review!

    1. I was like that about the classics, too, before I started blogging. Now I’m still not a huge fan, but I have discovered ones I like. Makes me more open to trying different books!

  2. This has been on my radar ever since learning that the movie was based on a book. In my experience, the book is generally better, and after reading your review, it sounds like this is the case with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Thanks!

  3. Heather I am totally in your camp about the classics, “some” of them are for me. However, my reason for reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so late in life is different from yours. Mine is that my mother always wanted me to read it. Of course since she wanted it and isn’t much of a reader herself I thought no way. Having read it I think one reason she wanted me to read it so badly was because she is of a similar generation to Francie and really identified with growing up in NY in the late 20’s, early 30’s. But I finally did it a few years ago and like you I was blown away. This is truly a classic because is transcends generations and speaks to all of us in our hearts.
    Keep up your good work, I love your blog.

    1. Thank you SO much! I would love to discuss the book with someone from that generation – my grandma is slightly younger than Francie, she was born in 1928, but I know she would be familiar with a lot of the things Francie dealt with. I wonder if she’s read it – I definitely need to ask her! I’m glad you liked the book so much!

    1. I know, isn’t that the best? I was expecting to slog through this one, just hoping to at least tolerate it. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t put it down!

  4. Well, I have to say that it has taken 41 years for me to pick this one up. I have a copy just never read it. Now after reading your thoughts on it, I really want to read it this summer!

  5. I just recently read this one in the past few months and loved it too!! Definitely one of those that shouldn’t stay on the TBR unread for too long!

  6. Hi Heather,

    I absolutely loved this book too! I didn’t know it was a classic. In fact, a friend lent it to me and said that I must read it. And at the end of it, I found that it was one of the best books ever! Wonderful review that you have here and I agree with it 🙂

  7. I can’t believe I waited until my 58th year of life to read this book. 🙂 The book was absolutely wonderful.

  8. I loved this one, too. Every single word of it. It’s now one of my all-time faves.

    I used to think the classics weren’t for me, but I’ve revised that to the Russian classics (tried the Brothers Karamazov and couldn’t get past page 60) and really, really old writing. LOL

    –Anna

  9. Just found your blog. I finished reading this today and couldn’t believe it took me so long to find//read it. I LOVED it as well. The movie is online on youtube and is just as good!

  10. This is one of my all-time favorite books! I love Francie, and I always love reading about other readers. Betty Smith’s Joy in the Morning is also wonderful, and feels almost like a sequel even though it’s not. I re-read it whenever I start whining about my life. Annie’s life in that book is good enough to be relatable (not like a drug/prostitute type of book), but she’s unbelievably poor and they have to work so hard to have so little it always makes me greatful.

  11. This is a classic! I love the strength of the characters, especially the women; I’m glad you mention the feminist tone. I felt sad for Francie, and thought of all the children who live in poverty without basic food, clothing and shelter. This book tells their story.

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