Kenny's Reviews > A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty  Smith
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1642452
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, classics, desert-island-books, top-11

“Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first time or last time: Then your time on earth will be filed with glory.”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith


1

This may well be one of the top 5 books I have ever read. It is an amazing piece of fiction & one of those books that stays with you long after you've read it.

This was Betty Smith’s first novel and it is an American classic; it was an immediate bestseller when it was published in 1943. Smith drew from her own experience growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the twentieth century to create the character of Francie Nolan. It’s story of a young girl learning to persevere – like the tree of the book’s title – and overcome the hardships of poverty. One of the first plainly-written novels about the lives of ordinary working-class Americans, it’s beloved as a story of what it means to be human.

But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is much more than a coming of age story. Its richly-plotted narrative of three generations in a poor but proud American family offers a detailed and unsentimental portrait of urban life at the beginning of the century. The story begins in 1912, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where eleven-year-old Francie Nolan and her younger brother, Neeley, are spending a Saturday collecting rags, paper, metal, rubber, and other scrap to sell to the junk man for a few pennies. Half of any money they get goes into the tin can bank that is nailed to the floor in the back corner of a closet in their tenement flat. This bank, a shared resource among everyone in the family, is returned to time and again throughout the novel, and becomes a recurring symbol of the Nolan's self-reliance, struggles, and dreams.

1

Those dreams sustain every member of the extended Nolan family, not just the children. Their mother Katie scrubs floors and works as a janitor to provide the family with free lodging. She is the primary breadwinner because her husband Johnny, a singing waiter, is often drunk and out of work. Yet there is no dissension in the Nolan household. Katie married a charming dreamer and she accepts her fate, but she vows that things will be better for her children. Her dream is that they will go to college and that Neeley will become a doctor. Intelligent and bookish, Francie seems destined to fulfill this ambition - Neeley less so.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) her own pragmatic nature, Francie feels a stronger affinity with her ne'er-do-well father than with her self-sacrificing mother. In her young eyes, Johnny can make wishes come true, as when he finagles her a place in a better public school outside their neighborhood. When Johnny dies an alcohol-related death, leaving behind the two school-aged children and another on the way, Francie cannot quite believe that life can carry on as before. Somehow it does, although the family's small enough dreams need to be further curtailed. Through Katie's determination, Francie and Neeley are able to graduate from the eighth grade, but thoughts of high school give way to the reality of going to work. Their jobs, which take them for the first time across the bridge into Manhattan, introduce them to a broader view of life, beyond the parochial boundaries of Williamsburg. Here Francie feels the pain of her first love affair. And with determination equal to her mother's, she finds a way to complete her education. As she heads off to college at the end of the book, Francie leaves behind the old neighborhood, but carries away in her heart the beloved Brooklyn of her childhood.

No matter your age or your place in life the rich prose A Tree Grows In Brooklyn will fuel your dreams and bring joy to your heart as you are transported to another time.
117 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 22, 2008 – Shelved
March 3, 2011 – Shelved as: favorites
September 14, 2012 – Shelved as: classics
July 1, 2016 – Shelved as: desert-island-books
November 12, 2017 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)
November 12, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read (Hardcover Edition)
November 12, 2017 – Shelved as: classics (Hardcover Edition)
November 12, 2017 – Shelved as: desert-island-books (Hardcover Edition)
November 12, 2017 – Shelved as: favorites (Hardcover Edition)
October 10, 2018 – Shelved as: top-11

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Franky (new) - added it

Franky Nice, I've had this on my to-read pile for years. Need to read it this summer or something. I happen to catch a few minutes of the film adaptation on TCM a few weeks ago, and then that reminded me I needed to get to this book one of these days.

Anyhow, great review Kenny!


message 2: by Kenny (new) - added it

Kenny Franky wrote: "Nice, I've had this on my to-read pile for years. Need to read it this summer or something." This is the perfect late spring/summer novel, Franky. I would put this in my top ten reads of all time.


message 3: by Maureen (new)

Maureen Great review Kenny.


message 4: by Kenny (new) - added it

Kenny Maureen wrote: "Great review Kenny." Thank you!


message 5: by Mohamed (last edited Apr 18, 2017 10:34AM) (new) - added it

Mohamed Great review, I'll definitely check it out. Sounds like you would enjoy Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane. He was also a true pioneer of American literary Realism/Naturalism.


message 6: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary read this about 100 years ago - still stays with me. (Of course, I HAVE read it about 5 times!) Great book.


Chris I cry every time I read this part of the book, “If I can open this envelope 50 years from now, I will be again as I am now and there will be no being old for me. There’s a long, long time yet before 50 years…millions of hours of time. But one hour has gone already since I sat here…one hour or less to live…one hour going away from all the hours of my life. Dear God, she prayed, let me be something every minute of every hour of my life… And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost. “


message 8: by Kenny (new) - added it

Kenny Chris wrote: "I cry every time I read this part of the book, “If I can open this envelope 50 years from now, I will be again as I am now and there will be no being old for me. There’s a long, long time yet before 50 years…millions of hours of time. But one hour has gone already since I sat here…one hour or less to live…one hour going away from all the hours of my life. Dear God, she prayed, let me be something every minute of every hour of my life… And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost. “"

Thank you for sharing this. It's beautiful.


Michael Perkins In spite of the film being directed by Elia Kazan, I think the book is much better than the film.


message 10: by Kenny (new) - added it

Kenny Michael wrote: "In spite of the film being directed by Elia Kazan, I think the book is much better than the film."

I agree. The film is very good, but there was too much to fit into 120 minutes.


Ellie Great review, Kenny. This book is also one of my favorites that I've read several times.

I grew up with this book: it was my mother's favorite book. Although she came from a small town in New Jersey, she identified with the portrait of the Depression Era and the family's struggles. So I read the book for the first time at an early age. I've read it at different points of my life and always get something new. I especially love the sections dealing with Francie's childhood. She is an unforgettable character.


message 12: by Mimi (new)

Mimi Great review Kenny I loved this when I read it too, recently re-watched the movie version which, despite being quite sentimental, was genuinely moving.


message 13: by Markus (new) - added it

Markus Thanks, Kenny. I really appreciate your beautiful and encouraging review.
This book must now go on my list. I might otherwise have overlooked it.


back to top