A perennial favorite! I first read this book about a young girl when I was in elementary school. Written in 1943 and set in the early 1900s this story is an unique coming of age novel.The book explores the life of eleven-year-old Francie Nolan and the rest of her Irish American Family. The book gives readers a unique glimpse into the hardscrabble lives of the families living in the tenements Brooklyn circa 1919. Through Francie and her younger brother Neely, the reader experiences how the wonderA perennial favorite! I first read this book about a young girl when I was in elementary school. Written in 1943 and set in the early 1900s this story is an unique coming of age novel.The book explores the life of eleven-year-old Francie Nolan and the rest of her Irish American Family. The book gives readers a unique glimpse into the hardscrabble lives of the families living in the tenements Brooklyn circa 1919. Through Francie and her younger brother Neely, the reader experiences how the wonderment of childhood survives even the most stark circumstances. Francie adores her father Johnnie who struggles with alcoholism. He is either unable to or unwilling to keep gainful employment. Katie, Francie's mother, is a very practical and hardworking woman. She holds the Nolan family together with her determination and tenacity. Her only dream in life is for Francie and Neely to go college. How will tradedy and the hard realities of life affect the Nolan family? I could not put "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" down when I first read it as a child. It still has the same effect on me.
I need to be reminded periodically of what a masterful writer’s attention to detail, character portrayal, and replication of human kindnesses and cruelties accomplishes. Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is an excellent example.
This book is about poor people in Brooklyn living against the odds before and during World War I. It is especially about strong women – the Rommely women – Mary, the grandmother; Mary’s three daughters Sissy, Katie, and Evy; and most particularly granddaughter FraI need to be reminded periodically of what a masterful writer’s attention to detail, character portrayal, and replication of human kindnesses and cruelties accomplishes. Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is an excellent example.
This book is about poor people in Brooklyn living against the odds before and during World War I. It is especially about strong women – the Rommely women – Mary, the grandmother; Mary’s three daughters Sissy, Katie, and Evy; and most particularly granddaughter Francie: all “made out of thin invisible steel.” It is also about their husbands and neighbors, shopkeepers and school children, teachers and co-workers. It is a compelling, detailed slice of life as the author must have experienced it.
Francie Nolan, the book’s main character, born in 1902, is eleven in the novel’s first chapter. Living in poverty in Brooklyn with her brother Neeley (a year younger than she), her truthful, resolute, practical mother Katie, and her empathetic, unrealistic, drunkard father Johnny, she exhibits already what Katie’s uneducated but wise mother Mary Rommely had advised Katie about raising her two children. “’The child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. … It is necessary that she believe. … Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination.’” Francie has imagination. When Katie pointed out to her mother that the child, growing up, would find out things for herself, her mother responded, “’It is a good thing to learn the truth one’s self. To first believe with all your heart, and then not to believe … fattens the emotions and makes them to stretch. When as a woman life and people disappoint her, she will have had practice in disappointment and it will not come so hard. … Do not forget that suffering is good, too. It makes a person rich in character.’” Early on, Francie, shunned by girls her own age, fantasizes about the lives of people she observes from the fire escape landing outside her window, lives in the stories of the library books she reads, and plays games with imaginary friends. She loves her imperfect father deeply. Over the course of five years she experiences nastiness, cruelty, grieves, yet perseveres. At the book’s end she is rich in character.
These scenes in particular moved me.
When Francie had been seven and Neeley six, Katie had sent them to the nearby public health center to be vaccinated. Katie had needed to work that day and Johnny had been at the waiters union hall hoping to be emplouyed that night. Told by older boys that his arm would be cut off at the health center, Neeley had been terrified. To distract him before leaving for the center, Francie had taken him out into the yard to make mud pies. They had left for the center just before they were scheduled to report, their arms covered with mud. “‘Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap,’” the doctor had said to the nurse assisting him. The doctor had then speculated “how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they were all sterilized and couldn’t breed any more.” After she had received her vaccination, Francie, terribly hurt, had fired back. “’My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me. … Besides, it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.’”
Francie’s teacher at the neighborhood school was also scornful of the poor. The spinster principal was nasty and brutal. Francie, turned nine, had her father fake their address to permit her to transfer to a better school. That November her new class participated in a Thanksgiving Day ceremony. Four chosen girls held symbols of the Thanksgiving feast. One symbol was a saucer-sized pumpkin pie. The teacher threw away the other symbols after the ceremony but not the pie, offering it to anyone who wanted to take it home. “Thirty mouths watered; thirty hands itched to go up into the air, but no one moved. … All were too proud to accept charitable food.” When the teacher was about to throw away the pie, Francie raised her hand. She explained she wanted to give the pie to “a very poor family.” The following Monday the teacher asked Francie about how the family had enjoyed the pie. Francie expanded on her lie by saying that there were twin girls in the family, they had not eaten for three days, and a doctor had said that they would have died but for the pie. Caught in her lie, Francie confessed. She pleaded not to be punished. The teacher answered, “’I’ll not punish you for having an imagination.’” She explained the difference between a lie and a story. The incident inspired Francie to channel her tendency to exaggerate events into writing stories.
A year later Francie told a whopping lie. She and Neeley attended a Christmas celebration conducted for the poor of all faiths by a Protestant organization. At the end of the celebration an exquisitely dressed, lovely girl named Mary came on stage carrying a foot-high beautiful doll. The woman that had accompanied the little girl announced, “’Mary wants to give the doll to some poor little girl in the audience who is named Mary. … Is there any poor little girl in the audience named Mary?’” Struck dumb by the adjective “poor,” no Mary spoke up. But at the last moment Francie did. As she walked back up the aisle carrying the doll, “the girls leaned towards her and whispered hissingly, ‘Beggar, beggar, beggar.’ … They were as poor as she but they had something she lacked – pride.”
Francie was extremely proud of her seventh grade composition printed in the school magazine at the close of the school year. Eager to meet her father in the street to show him the published composition, she saw a girl named Joanna come out of her flat pushing a baby carriage. Joanna, who was seventeen, wasn’t married. Several housewives on the sidewalk gasped as Joanna strolled past them. Katie and Johnny had talked about Joanna. At the end of their conversation Katie had said to Francie, “’Let Joanna be a lesson to you.’” Seeing her, Francie wondered how Joanna was a lesson. She was friendly. She wanted everybody else to be friendly. She smiled at the ladies on the street. They frowned. She smiled at nearby children. Some of them smiled back. Francie, believing she probably wasn’t supposed to, did not smile back. Joanna continued to walk up and down the sidewalk. The ladies became more outraged. One woman eventually spoke. “’Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’” Joanna answered back. “’Get off the street, you whore,’” the woman demanded. A verbal fight ensured. The women began to throw stones. One struck the baby on the forehead. Joanna carried the baby into her flat, leaving the carriage on the sidewalk. The women disappeared. Little boys began to play with the carriage. Francie wheeled the carriage back to the front door of Joanna’s flat. She placed her story on the carriage cushion as recompense for not having smiled. She decided later that the lesson she had learned was that she hated women. “She feared them for their devious ways, she mistrusted their instincts. She began to hate them for this disloyalty and their cruelty to each other.”
Francie’s father died when she was fourteen. Thereafter, instead of writing about the beauty of birds and trees she wrote four little stories about Johnny to show that despite his shortcomings he had been “a good father and kindly man.” Her new English teacher marked her compositions “C,” not what Francie was accustomed to, “A.” Afterward, she and Francie had a private conversation. The teacher wanted Francie to write about beauty and truth as she had before. “’Poverty, starvation and drunkenness are ugly subjects. … Drunkards belong in jail, not in stories. And poverty. There is no excuse for that. There’s enough work for all who want it. People are poor because they’re too lazy to work. There’s nothing beautiful about laziness. … Now that we’ve talked things out, I’m sure you’ll stop writing these sordid little stories.’” She advised Francie to burn her four compositions in her stove when she got home. Instead, Francie burned all her “A” compositions. She told herself, “I never saw a poplar and I read somewhere about the sky arching and I never saw those flowers except in a seed catalogue. I got A’s because I was a good liar. … I am burning ugliness. I am burning ugliness.”
Two years later Francie met a twenty-one year old soldier about to be shipped off to the war in Europe. They spent an evening together and kissed. They met the next evening and the soldier asked Francie to have sex with him and to marry him if he came back from the war. They did not engage in sex but she accepted his proposal. He went back home to Pennsylvania the next day to see his mother before being shipped out. Several days later Francie received a letter from the soldier’s mother informing her that the woman’s son had married his fiancée. Francie needed her mother to tell her hard truths.
Told what had happened, having read the letter, Katie recognized she could no longer stand between her children and heartache.
“’Say something,’ demanded Francie.
“’What can I say?’
“’Say that I’m young – that I’ll get over it. Go ahead and say it. Go ahead and lie,’” Francie said bitterly.
“’I know that’s what people say – you’ll get over it. I’d say it, too. But I know it’s not true. … Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him.’
“’Mother, he asked me to be with him for the night. Should I have gone? … Don’t make up a lie, Mother. Tell me the truth.’
“’There are two truths,’ said Katie finally. ‘As a mother, I say it would have been a terrible thing for a girl to sleep with a stranger. … Your whole life might have been ruined. … But as a woman …’ she hesitated. ‘I will tell you … It would have been a very beautiful thing. Because there is only once that you love that way.’”
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is such a bittersweet, beautiful book. Betty Smith assures us that amid the misery and ugliness of poverty honest, empathetic people rich in character do exist. We need to know that. We need to retain hope for the human race. ...more
The books takes place in 1912 about a poor family named Nolan in Williamsburg Brooklyn. There is a tree named the tree of heaven.The first event is that Katie and Johnny are married. Next event is Francie and Neely start school. The third event is the fact that Johnny dies of pneumonia and alcoholism. The last event is that Katie marries McShane.The main characters are in the book is Francie Nolan ,Katie Nolan, Johnny, sissy,and Katie .She sets the tone for the novel.I do agree with their action The books takes place in 1912 about a poor family named Nolan in Williamsburg Brooklyn. There is a tree named the tree of heaven.The first event is that Katie and Johnny are married. Next event is Francie and Neely start school. The third event is the fact that Johnny dies of pneumonia and alcoholism. The last event is that Katie marries McShane.The main characters are in the book is Francie Nolan ,Katie Nolan, Johnny, sissy,and Katie .She sets the tone for the novel.I do agree with their actions because the family is trying to go against the hardships. Also katy brings joy to the family. The conflict is poverty and i do agree how it was handled because the family is just trying to get by. Which means that the conflict is internal.
The genre this book fits is the Classical literature. What the book did well is the history references. Because the book had correct dates and the lifestyle was correct. I have read other books of this genre the book compares well.The theme is to be strong it is supported because of the tree of heaven.I would have have more losses so that the main character has to deal with it.The book did appeal to me because it has a lot of history and could teach someone. I would recommend it because if you like history you could enjoy it and even if you don't it still a good classic.
Smith Betty A tree grows in Brooklyn New York Harper Collins 4.00$ ...more
I love historical biographies, and this is a unique window into a transitional time in American history and the evolutions of a city. It is primarily though, about one girl and her family in Brooklyn, as they brave poverty, alcoholism and everyday trials. All the while her perspective is positive and prosaic. Very enjoyable.
I have loved this book for as long as I can remember. I read it for the 1st time when I was in 6th or 7th grade and I know there was much I did not understand @ the time but I did understand Francie - more accurately, I felt Betty Smith understood me. I wasn't a tenement girl - I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in a large city in the mid - west. I loved to read and dreamed of one day being a writer. I didn't read one book a day(I'm still trying to figure out how Francie did!)but I wasI have loved this book for as long as I can remember. I read it for the 1st time when I was in 6th or 7th grade and I know there was much I did not understand @ the time but I did understand Francie - more accurately, I felt Betty Smith understood me. I wasn't a tenement girl - I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in a large city in the mid - west. I loved to read and dreamed of one day being a writer. I didn't read one book a day(I'm still trying to figure out how Francie did!)but I was @ the Library @ least once a week & often more. I even tried reading the books alphabetically but changed my mind quick enough!
I even had my own little spot to read. Between our garage & the fence that separated our yard from our neighbor was the perfect secluded spot. Covered with climbing roses and divinely scented, you had to crouch down and crawl through but once inside it was perfect! I was completely safe from prying eyes which meant my mother wasn't yelling @ me to "get my nose out of that book and GO PLAY!" I had a tumbler of iced tea & whatever little nibble I could sneak out of the house and I would read for hours.
Reading 'Tree' this time I was surprised by how much I had forgotten - or perhaps I am older now & more judgmental. I wanted to take Johnny by the neck & shake him until he got his act together.
Betty Smith wrote a book rich in detail and the kind of detail that brings the tenement life into sharp focus. I was grateful that this book is not sentimental but a matter of fact telling of Brooklyn tenement life in the early nineteen hundreds.
For as long as I have had my copy of this book I have intended to read Maggie Now. Perhaps now, I will.
This book about a girl name francie and she is in a poor family and in the middle of the story her dad die and her mom had a baby, and it was just her brother, her mom, the baby girl and herself. I can connect this to begging for change because the girl's family was poor and her dad was a drunk and a liked to use alot of drug and left her mom. I give this book a five stars and because it had a meaning,to is the family was poor and then they became middle class because the mom marry the cop.
How could it have taken me so long to read this book? I read it after retiring, trying to save money, reading books from a local library. It was a wonderful experience, to feel and see such detail about the time when my parents grew up.
I love a book that can transport me to it's time period, which this book did so well. I love being challenged to research items mentioned to understand what they are. For example having to research Spats and dying of Consumption. The details were beautifully done and you feel as if you know each of the characters, there flaws and strengths, personally when you come to the end.
There is something about Smith's work that I just love. There is this simple honesty that draws me in, to the story, to the characters, to everything. I had read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn years ago, and it is still my favorite of Smith's novels. Maggie-Now was new to me, and while it wasn't my favorite, I did love the story.
I have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn numerous times. I had to read it again. The first time I read it was in fourth grade. I don't think I "got it," But I do remember liking it. But I think Betty Smith is a classic writer in her own right and I look forward to reading more of her stuff.
Betty Smith has a unique way of telling a story about old Williamsburg and living in dire poverty. Francie, the story's main character, wins your heart. I would re-read this, no questions asked. It's a story that stays with you, well after the ending.
second time to read tree grows-i have not read Maggie Now. I found the melodrama a bit much at the end in this one and alittle too easy of an ending but still some great images and an amazing feat to grow up in new york in the 1900s-how did they survive?!
At times, the story dragged on and on. Francie was really clueless through most of her life. I also was disappointed in the ending. I'd like to know what she finally did with her life, and see if she finally figured anything out.
A great character book. Not an adventure, or lots of movement, but well worth the read for just getting to know the people and the time era. New York from the poor persons standpoint at turn of the last century.
While both these books are written really well and you really feel transported to Brooklyn during the early 20th century, I thought they were really depressing. I would probably give both books a 3.5 rating.
Betty Smith (AKA Sophina Elisabeth Wehner): Born- December 15, 1896; Died- January 17, 1972
Born in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrants, she grew up poor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These experiences served as the framework to her first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (19Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
Betty Smith (AKA Sophina Elisabeth Wehner): Born- December 15, 1896; Died- January 17, 1972
Born in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrants, she grew up poor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These experiences served as the framework to her first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).
After marrying George H. E. Smith, a fellow Brooklynite, she moved with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he pursued a law degree at the University of Michigan. At this time, she gave birth to two girls and waited until they were in school so she could complete her higher education. Although Smith had not finished high school, the university allowed her to enroll in classes. There she honed her skills in journalism, literature, writing, and drama, winning a prestigious Hopwood Award. She was a student in the classes of Professor Kenneth Thorpe Rowe.
In 1938 she divorced her husband and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There she married Joseph Jones in 1943, the same year in which A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published. She teamed with George Abbott to write the book for the 1951 musical adaptation of the same name. Throughout her life, Smith worked as a dramatist, receiving many awards and fellowships including the Rockefeller Fellowship and the Dramatists Guild Fellowship for her work in drama. Her other novels include Tomorrow Will Be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958) and Joy in the Morning (1963). ...more