A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Publisher: Harper & Brothers
Publication Date: 1943
Source: My own copy

The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

My Thoughts:

I first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was a teenager. I loved the book with my whole heart. That hasn’t changed. I was swept away by the story and the characters all over again with this re-read.

I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn. I didn’t come of age in the early 1900’s. But there is something about this book that makes me feel as if I did. Betty Smith puts you in that time and place and makes it seem as if it’s happening to you. I felt the joys and the sorrows of the Nolan family as if they were my own. 

Francie Nolan is one of my favorite narrators of all time. While her family is ground down by alcoholism, poverty, and illiteracy she keeps striving to better herself. She knows that education is the key to having a better life and she is tenacious in her attempt to learn all that she can. Despite a hard life she finds comfort in the simple joys that come her way.

What brings Francie the most solace? Books! Ah, now there’s a girl after my own heart. 

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.” 

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.” 

“As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed. ” 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is exquisite. I count it among my very favorite books of all time. If you haven’t read this classic you should move it to the very top of your list.

2013 TBR Pile Challenge
The Classics Club

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

  1. I've had this on my shelf for a LONG TIME and still haven't read it. I knew it was a classic that everyone loved, so I'm not sure why I've waited so long! I think I might have to read it after I finish Jane Eyre. 🙂 PS – I love the look of your blog! That cursive font is gorgeous! 🙂


  2. Same here—on my shelf for years, borrowed from my mom a long time ago. Now with my 2013 reading challenges I might not get to it for a while yet…! It just takes a lot of talking myself into picking up classics. Other genres attract me more, that's all. But I do want to get to it!


  3. All the love for this book and for Francie! I just read it for the first time last year, and I wish I had read it as a teenager. I'm looking forward to giving my boyfriend's little sister a copy in a few years, though 🙂


  4. You'd better read it before your mom asks for it back, ha! There are so many books vying for our attention, I completely understand that. The classics have a way of making their way to the back of the shelves because we know they will always be there. 🙂


  5. I've had A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on my wishlist for a while now. Francie sounds like an incredibly character. The quote gave me chills and it's easy to connect with it. I want to order it now after reading your review!


  6. This is such a great book. I regret that I didn't read it until my twenties, though. 😦 I think this is one of those books you can read when you are young and then come back to again and again.


  7. This was my last book for February and I loved it as well. You fall in love with Francie Nolan and can't wait to see how she's going to make it.


  8. I didn't know you were rereading it! And yes, Francie makes you feel there, with the Nolans, in Brooklyn.I loved the story too, although I found a little bit ridiculous the thing about reading all the books of the library starting with the A and so on 😉


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