A tree grows in Brooklyn : a novel

by Betty Smith

Hardcover, 1943

Status

Available

Publication

Philadelphia : Blakiston, [1943].

Description

Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. HTML: 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 growing up in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn, New York 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 heartbreaking and uplifting, the Nolans' daily experiences are raw with honestly and tenderly threaded with family connectedness. 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 traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry. Smith has created a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as deeply resonant moments of universal experience. Here is an American classic that "cuts right to the heart of life," hails the New York Times. "If you miss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, you will deny yourself a rich experien… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mckait
Oh my what a trip into the past this was. I read this book several times as a child. In fact, I was about Francie's age when I first read it. My only memory was of a girl in a window and a tree. For some reason that image stayed with me more than the story.

I can't say that the story came back to
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me as I read, it did not. This was good, in that it was like reading and discovering it all over again. No wonder I read it time after time. In so many ways my own life mirrored Francie's.
Even to the picking up of trash ( bottles) along the roads ( alleys) and turning them in for money for treats.

We too, were less than wealthy, but such is life. Better times came for us. As for Francie? Life is what you make it, don't you think? And Francie was a strong young girl, who grew into a strong and intelligent young woman. She came form a family of strong women, who knew how to keep family together and how to do whatever needed to be done. The poor can't afford much, and being squeamish is one of those things.

I'd like to lift a glass to the Francie the woman, and the women around her who taught her how to be the best she could be. We can overcome a lot if we put our minds to it. This story was dated in some ways, but oh so current in others. After all these years there are still children who don't know where their next meal will come from, men who just don't have it in them to stand strong and do what is needed and women who make up the difference and stand with their shoulders against the door to keep out the wolf called hunger and keep in the warm called love.

highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
This coming-of-age story follows Francie Nolan and her down and out family in Brooklyn. Beginning when Francie's 12 and ending when she's 17 we see how her loving, but alcoholic father, tough mother and other characters affect Francie and her view of the world.

Unlike many novels, the supporting
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characters in this story are so complicated. Francie's mother Katie works so hard and truly loves her husband, but can't help resent him for his drinking and the position that puts their family in. Francie's father Johnny isn't your typical drunk either. You can't help but love him, even when he is hurting their family by spending their last pennies on booze. Francie's Aunt Sissy is a sweet woman, but maybe not the best influence on the kids. The characters feel more like your own family than good guy and bad guys in a book. You love them even though they hurt you or make bad decisions.

The setting is also divine. The bustling streets of Brooklyn in the 1930s held so many different cultures, because of all the immigrants who settled in that area. Even Francie's own family is a mix of Irish and Austrian heritages, showing the true meaning of a melting pot society.

I loved this book and completely fell for the character of Francie. I loved reading and school like she did, but it's the dreamy quality she has that got to my heart. She never gave up on her father and he needed someone like her that believed in him so badly. She has such love for the world and hope for her own future, despite her circumstances. I hope that I can keep a little bit of Francie in my heart, even in my most cynical moments.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
By the end of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith’s mostly autobiographical coming of age novel, sixteen year old Francie Nolan has packed more living into her young life than most 80 year old Americans. Smith’s turn of the century tale tells precocious Francie’s story as well as that of
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her mother, the grimly realistic Katie, alcoholic and dreamy-eyed father Johnny and brother Neeley as they endure their hardscrabble lives and manage to make it seem to those of us on the other side of the page, as though their love and respect for each other overcomes the dire poverty that surrounds them. Katie’s philosophy of life sums up very neatly all that she wants for her children:

”Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of the grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” (Page 95)

And she toughens them up in every possible way; as if life wasn’t tough enough already. Katie’s imagination keeps her from succumbing from the depression that engulfs their lives as she scrubs the floors of one of several tenement buildings that she cleans daily:

”Katie had this same flair for coloring an incident and Johnny himself lived in a half-dream world, yet they tried to squelch these things in their child. Maybe they had a good reason. Maybe they knew their own gift of imagination colored too rosily the poverty and brutality of their lives and made them able to endure it. Perhaps Katie thought that if they did not have this faculty, they would be clearer-minded; see things as they really were, and seeing them loathe them and somehow find a way to make them better.” (Page 199)

The book could only have been written by someone who had lived through the experience. The descriptions of life at this time, just before WWI, are too vivid to have not have been experienced by the author. She manages to convey an appreciation for the small things of life that are normally taken for granted. And she’s created in bright, gifted Francie, an unbelievably appealing child who endures all life throws at her and manages to come out on top. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
This book is, I believe, an American Classic. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is the quintessential coming-of-age story for young girls. Francie Nolan’s difficult childhood growing up in the early 1900’s in the slums of Brooklyn resonates with pride, resourcefulness, and heart. We are
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given an in-depth look at a small slice of American life in the early part of the twentieth century.

Francie’s life is difficult, the less favoured child of a remote mother, having a drunken, musical father who is many things but never a wage-earner, she is growing up as a tenement child, dirty, hungry and ragged. She wins our hearts with her determination to flourish and grow. As the tree outside her window manages to survive in difficult conditions so does Francie overcome her poverty and neglect. How can you not fall in love with this little girl, who vows to herself to read a book a day.

Although Francie is the main character, we are rewarded with many other well developed, real people. From her loveable, loose, people-smart Aunt Sissy to her complex, hard-working strong mother, each character has their own identity and fills the pages of the book with their stories.

Written in a straight forward, deceptively simple manner, the author gives so much heart and soul to Francie that the reader can’t help but be carried away by her story. The book is filled with many beautiful, thoughtful moments where Francie’s feelings and reflections on her life are expressed vividly. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a book for generations to enjoy, both hopeful and uplifting, a rich and rewarding read.
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LibraryThing member DubaiReader
I know I'm going to be shot down in flames for not enjoying this as much as other readers, but for me it was slow going. I can appreciate its merit as a study of a bygone era and there was much to admire in the characterisations, but a book is not enjoyable if I have to force myself to pick it up.
I
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was reading it for a book group and the ensuing discussion was excellent but it put me in mind of Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which I also found hard work.

The Nolans are a poor Brooklyn family with an industrious mother but an alcoholic father. Not a nasty alcohlic, in fact a fun loving, gentle alcoholic, but not a regular wage earner. The two children, Francie and Neeley, do everything they can to help bring in a few extra coins and the family scrapes by.
As the years pass we follow the family's fortunes through Francie, the eldest, as she goes out into the workplace at 14 and starts to earn a living.

Interestingly, much of the book seems to be autoboigraphical as Betty Smith was born in Brooklyn at about the same time as Francie and would have lived a similarly difficult life. Her Bio does not mention if her father was an alcoholic but no doubt she would have had neighbours with similar problems.

I can see why this has become a classic and the other memebers of our book group gave it high marks, just not my cup of tea.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
I can't believe that I waited so many years to make the acquaintance of Francie Nolan, her brother Neeley, and her parents Katie and Johnny. They reside in Brooklyn. Francie learns quickly that she is the only one in her class whose parents were born in the United States. The others were children
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of immigrants. Francie excels in school, especially in writing. She loves to read, although the librarian in her neighborhood library is not going to win any customer service awards. This is just a nice, clean novel about growing up in a poor family and working toward making things better for the next generation than it was for your own. I'm sure that I'll revisit this book in the future.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
Being close to the last reader on the planet to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I finally decided it's more than about time to discover why this novel seems to be such a beloved book.
Taken at face value alone this is the story of young Francie Nolan, the oldest child of scrubwoman Katie and sometime
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employed singing waiter, Johnny. In the early years of the twentieth century, along with brother Neely, they share in the struggle to make ends meet, put a meal on the table and clothes on their backs. Despite these difficulties, the hardest to accept and the least understood impediment is Johnny's struggle with alcohol abuse which hampers their ability to financially advance. Their days are enriched and made lighter with assorted aunts, uncles, grandma and assorted local characters which provide color and amusement.
Author Betty Smith, who turned her memoir into this beguiling novel , artistically breathes life into an era that is long gone and the slums of Brooklyn, New York which may not be familiar to many a reader.
But that's not the end of the story, if you look beyond the Nolan's daily struggles, beyond the passé storyline and relentless hardships, you will find, what I believe to be, the stuff which makes this story timeless, beloved and relevant through the decades. It is the undying love of family and country. It is the ability to persevere in the face of poverty, injustice, addiction and loneliness. It's never giving up, never succumbing to a tough life, never accepting that life will never improve. It is the hope that despite all of the nasty things that life throws your way, there is always a chance that things will change for the better.
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LibraryThing member thorold
I think I would have loved this book if I'd first read it when I was 13 or 14. It's the sort of book that makes you grasp for words like "poignant", "touching", "heart-warming" and - I tremble at the thought - "evocative".

It's an unexpected mix of a classic 19th-century aspirational
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self-improvement narrative with some early 20th century social realism - very much in the tradition of Dickens and Louisa M Alcott, but with a few shovelfuls of Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck (maybe even D.H. Lawrence) influence thrown in.

There are some witty and superbly inventive bits of writing, and it's not surprising that people fall in love with the book. The opening chapter would make a fantastic short story. The descriptions of what it feels like to live in poverty ring true, and stick with you even if you've read a hundred other books about that kind of life or heard about it first hand from your grandparents.

But the book is almost 500 pages long. We know more or less from the outset where the plot is headed, but it takes it forever to get there, and there are plenty of lead-footed moments: the narrator's interminable moralistic voice-overs, the almost vomit-inducing steadfastness and strength of character of Francie and her mother Katie, the protracted and constantly foreshadowed downfall of the alcoholic father, the improbable deus ex machina who plucks them out of the gutter with all the subtlety of the final chapter of a Dickens novel, etc., etc.

Fun, but not a book I would put in my suitcase for the proverbial desert island.
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LibraryThing member knittingfreak
I read this classic by Betty Smith for one of my book clubs. I was a little embarrassed to admit to the group that I hadn't read it before. I had seen the movie several times, but I'm not sure why I never got around to reading this one. The book is narrated by Francie Nolan, a precocious 11-year
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old who lives with her Irish American family in Brooklyn in the years prior to and just after WWI. They are extremely poor but proud and determined to make a better life for themselves. Katie, Francie's mom, cleans their building and a couple other buildings on their street to pay their rent. Francie's father, Johnny, is a lovable, carefree man with absolutely no ambition. He also happens to be an alcoholic. He works sporadically as a singing waiter when he's sober, which isn't very often. You'd think that it would be easy to dislike him, but for some reason I didn't. I liked him, but most of all, I felt sorry for him. He truly loved his family and was very proud of them, but he couldn't stop drinking long enough to take care of them properly.

Francie never seemed to fit in with the kids in the neighborhood or at school. She was often very lonely. She spent most of her time reading. In fact, she had a plan to read every book in the little library near her home beginning with the "A" authors and working her way right through to the "Z" authors. Saturdays were special because Francie would go to the library to get a book outside of her reading plan -- something just for fun. Each Saturday morning, Francie approached the librarian to ask her for a recommendation. And each Saturday morning, the librarian would ask her how old she was and then pull a book out from under her desk. During the entire exchange, the librarian never looked up. You'd think she would know this little girl by name and be excited to help her find something to read. This same thing happened every Saturday morning for years, and the librarian would bring the same (!) book out from under her desk for Francie each and every time. It didn't matter how old Francie got. It didn't matter that she had given her the same book every Saturday for years. The odd thing was that Francie never said anything. She simply took the book and read it -- again. As a librarian, I'm always sad to see librarians portrayed in a negative light. I'd like to think that librarians are in the profession because they want to help connect books and readers. Thankfully, the librarians in my local public library system are great! It's obvious that they chose their profession because they love what they do and care about their patrons.

Education, both formal and informal, is a running theme throughout the book. Katie's convinced that education will be the tool that helps her children better themselves and climb out of extreme poverty. Katie asks her mother what she can do to make sure that they succeed. Her mother replies, "The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day. I know this is the secret (p. 74)." Katie chooses two books to read a page out of to her children daily -- the Bible and Shakespeare.

The book follows Francie and her brother Neely and later, little sister Laurie, as they navigate life in the city. There is often cruelty and hardship, but there's also great love. Once they're older, they look back with fondness at the "good ole' days." It's hard to imagine any fond memories when they rarely had enough to eat, but they found joy in life and in each other.

There's so much more to this book than I can discuss here. The reader really gets a sense of what it was like for first and second generation immigrants in New York during the early part of the 20th century. In many ways, Brooklyn itself is almost another character in the novel. Francie loves Brooklyn. And she loves the tree that grows outside her window. It's called the Tree of Heaven. This tree is able to grow anywhere and under any circumstances. As a young child, Francie sits out on the fire escape under the shade of this tree and is transported to other worlds through her books. The tree, like Francie, thrives with very little nourishment. Even though it's cut down at one point, it returns and begins growing and thriving again. I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it. It is a true gem.

Several of the women at my book club read a biography of Betty Smith that really added to their understanding and enjoyment of this book. I haven't read it, but it comes highly recommended by those who have read it. If you're interested in details of the author's life and want to know more about how she came to write this book, check out Betty Smith: Life of the Author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
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LibraryThing member kassandraj
One of the books that I just did not want to end. When I finished it, I picked it right back up and read it for the second time. Francie Nolan became one of my all time favorite characters, as I felt I bonded with her throughout the course of her childhood.
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn captures the life of the Nolan family, who live in the slums of Brooklyn, not by choice, but because they are poor. The book follows them from the opening of the 20th century through the 1920s. The central character here is Francie, the daughter of Katie and Johnny, opening
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when she is 11, and follows her through her teenage years.

The book is a coming-of-age novel, but at the same time, it's a look at many issues prevalent at the time which one could argue are still prevalent now. For example, beyond the immediate effects of poverty on Francie's family's life, the author has also reflected on how people both on the inside and outside of the Nolan's community viewed poverty. There is a great scene where Francie and her brother went to a "celebration for the poor of all faiths" (211) -- where the kids received little gifts, watched a play, etc., and then there was a give away of a doll. The woman gives a speech about the child giving away the doll, saying that "Little Mary is a very rich little girl," who had received a lot of dolls for Christmas, and wanted to give the doll to "some poor little Mary." All of the "poor" little girls refused to own up to being named Mary, because no one wanted to be a "symbol of all the poor little girls in the audience" (212). There's also a part where Francie, who wants to become a writer and is good at it, turns in compositions about "poverty, starvation and drunkenness" which her teacher tells her are "ugly subjects to choose.." but not to be written about. (321).

Smith also writes about the perception among many of the poor that education would lift their children out of the slums and give them a chance to have a better life than the previous generation, but at the age where they can go on to high school, many families were so poor that the kids had to get working papers to help support the family, sounding the death knell of many parents' dreams to get their children out of the slums and into a better situation, further perpetuating the cycle. I could go on.

What this book is really about is hope and perseverance. At the end of my edition is a little bio of the author, and in it, the author's daughter notes "She often said about 'Tree' that she didn't write it the way it was, but the way it should have been." I think the reason this book resonates with so many people is reflected in that statement. Would we have liked it as much if she had written A Tree Grows in Brooklyn "the way it was?" Contrast this book with Ann Petry's The Street.

I vaguely remember reading this book as a teen, but I think my recommendation would be to older readers who are a bit more life savvy. There's a lot in this book to contemplate.
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
A wonderful, poignant coming-of-age story, capturing pre-World War I Brooklyn as seen through the eyes of young Francie, a girl of grit and determination. As a social documentary, it captures the struggles of the poorer working class of Brooklyn of the time period and warns of how pride can be both
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an anchor of protection and a lodestone that can drag you down. As a coming-of-age story, Smith has provided the perfect protagonist in Francie, capturing all of her hopes, fears, dreams and the crushing realities of growing up while trying to rise above the teeming milieu, even when all of the cards seem to be stacked against you. After reading this one, I can see why it was such a popular book when it first came out in 1943 and why it remains such a popular book, even today.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
I read this book many years ago as a young woman and loved it. Now many years later, it still is a wonderful story of a young girl growing up surrounded by poverty but maintaining an innocence of heart. There is not one ounce of cynicism in Francie's entire body; something that is rare today.

I read
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many of the negative reviews from young people who have been required to read the book. It is so difficult for them to get past the differences of today's age and then; however, hopefully some will have inspiring teachers who will be able to get them through the details enough in order to see the universal story of perseverance and strength of family.

This book is not a page turner, has dated dialogue and writing style, and is probably not for everyone. However, it is a warm, pleasant, inspiring read that should at least be tasted.
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LibraryThing member bremmd
Every year I think about rereading books I loved when I was younger. Every year or two I'll reread "To Kill a Mockingbird" or I'll take another read of "Camille". It's like getting back together with a old friend and I always feel better after.

Now these two books I've read rather consistently
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since I first fell in love with them but others I loved in High School and earlier I haven't read in years and in some cases decades. An example of that is "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". I don't think I've read it in 20 years or more. This month my book club decided to "A Tree" and I realized I haven't read it forever. But I began to get nervous that I wouldn't love it the way I did when I first read it.

Well, I didn't have to worry. It was everything I remembered it being. Francie Nolan and her family live in turn of the century Brooklyn. Poverty and cruelty is everywhere yet the Nolan family they're family and neighbors work hard to simply live, an accomplishment in itself. Francie's father Johnny is a lovable entertaining man who drinks to much and finds it hard to grow up and take care of his family the way he should. The job of providing for the family falls to Katie Nolan, Francie's mother. Katie works hard to earn money and take care of her family and also pushes each of her children to get an education, knowing it's the only way they will ever escape life in the tenements of Brooklyn.

A vivid picture of a time and place that doesn't exist anymore "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is, at heart, the story of how one little girl, with the help of those who love her, survives with hope and a remarkable resilience that makes you root for her to become everything she hopes to be.

I loved this book so much. The old chestnut of "I Laughed, I cried" really does fit this book. I think one of the things that struck me most is how fast children had to grow up in those conditions. We talk today about how fast our kids grow up but it seems nothing in comparison to that way children had to fight to survive in this time period. Children went to work to support their family and while I'm sure it still exists I wonder if it is prevalent. Just with the child labor laws it must be different.

The hope that flows through this story is what really touched me. I truly believe Francie would be one who made it out but unlike others shown in the story who made it out and turned their backs on their life in Brooklyn you're left knowing Francie would never forget or hate her past life. Thanks to the love and support of all her family Francie would never really leave Brooklyn.
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LibraryThing member trekbody
A very enjoyable novel of early 20th century life in New York.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is the most nostalgic, sentimental book I have ever read. It starts slow. A hundred pages in and all you have is character description, setting, and back story (personally, I would have been happy with much less back story). Another hundred pages in you'll find what may be
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the start of the story, more setting, more character description. If you're more astute than I was, by this point you should have figured out that this was the story. In many novels, such a lack of defined plot would be detrimental to the success of the book. In A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, the loosely-defined story is its strength.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is the story of living and wanting and hoping. It centers around a Brooklyn girl and her family in the early 1900s. What else could one say about the story? That's pretty much what the book is about. That's not to say events do not happen, events that are important in the life of Francie, but these moments are not what the story is about, nor are they all that memorable. They mirror our own lives. Sure a fist fight may have seemed significant when you were in the second grade. The death of a relative may have seemed insurmountable at the time. A short-lived romance may have felt like the moving of heaven and earth when you were sixteen. But who'd read a book about events that seem so trivial in hindsight? Betty Smith, that's who.

Smith has truly captured what it means to be human in this debut novel. She recalls childhood with such insight that it is easy to forget you're reading. It doesn't matter that her streets were not my own. Nor that her wars were not mine. One hundred years may separate us, but I could largely identify with Francie Nolan. While cultural differences abound throughout the world, there is enough honest truth at the heart of Francie's story that I'd argue it is universal at its core. Regardless of plot, that is effective storytelling.

It's difficult to write a riveting book, but one is published often enough that you know you'll find another page-turner one day, if not soon. But to find such a real, honest, and natural book again... there is always hope.
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LibraryThing member jo-jo
Let me start this review by saying this is a classic that every American citizen should read. It brings you back to a time when life was much harder than it is today-people actually had to work hard and sometimes fight for every single piece of bread being put on the table. Our society has evolved
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into something allowing people to just get what they want, so it was refreshing to read a book about people who worked hard for their earnings.

The Nolan family has definitely had their fair share of hardships, but that doesn't stop Katie, Francie's mother, from trying to create the best home for her family that they can afford. They go out of their way to make every penny stretch. From going to different butchers for better cuts of meat, to walking an extra couple of blocks for a less expensive bread at a bakery, this family knew how to save money. And with Johnny, Francie's father, spending all of his extra earnings at the local tavern, Katie found her way of saving a necessary way of life.

We follow Francie through her daily life and sometimes wonder how she and her young brother can make it another day when they are cold and hungry. They look forward to school knowing they at least will not be cold for the day. Francie has high expectations early on in life when she sets her eyes on a school in another District that would offer her a better education. Her father may have been the local drunk, but he helped Francie do what she needed to attend that school.

There were moments in this book making me giggle with delight, while others had me gasping with astonishment. I can't help but consider this book a great American novel that should be read by everyone, especially young kids that have everything given to them. With themes of family, struggles, and America, I'm sure you all would enjoy this novel as much as I did. I highly recommend this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion.
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LibraryThing member varwenea
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a simply told tale about life – the good, the bad, the ugly. When it was first published in 1943, it was lauded as being an “honest” book.

Francie (Frances) Nolan is the sweet, intelligent heroine and story teller of this honest tale – child of handsome but
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drunken Johnny and beautiful, thoughtful but hard-lucked Katie, and sister to one year younger Neeley (Cornelius). On the surface, there is poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, hunger, and death – the usual struggles of immigrant families (although Francie was third gen). Just below the surface is the richly woven fabric of love – complex, deep, strong-willed. This tale is enriched by Katie’s two sisters, Sisley and Evy (Eva), and Katie’s mother, Mary. Sisley, being childless for most parts of the book, played a large role in the children’s lives, filling them with love, treats, and entertaining gossip. The strength of the women in this book charms the reader.

The novel is divided into five books:
Book One – The introduction of Francie at the age of 11 in 1912. Life is hard around these Brooklyn blocks, and we get a picture of the difficult lives of everyone – from meals from stale bread to junk selling for pennies.
Book Two – In 1900, we learn the meeting of Johnny and Katie, showcasing an abundance of her will.
Book Three – Back to the “present”, the Nolans’ lives settle in and Francie is in a better school, enjoying her education. Alas tragedy strikes the family. And later, a new sister, Annie Laurie was born.
Book Four – Francie and Neeley both take jobs at the ages of 14 and 13. Having lied about her age to be 16, Francie became exceedingly successful in her newspapers reading/clipping job (old school data research!) U.S. enters World War I in 1917. Neeley returned to high school, while Francie lands a new job.
Book Five – Wrap-up. Francie is 17, and the family leaves the neighborhood for a better future.

I tend to enjoy tales of immigrants, and this was a gem too. To prevent lice and mumps: “Francie attended school stinking of garlic and kerosene oil. Everyone avoided her. In the crowded yard, there was always a cleared space around her. In crowded trolley cars, people huddled away from those Nolan children.” With a penny (to buy a sheet of paper and envelope), Francie attends a better school (still happens now). “Johnny wrote a note saying Francie was going to live with relatives at such and such an address and wanted a transfer… He signed his name and underlined it authoritatively.” Living on 6 loaves of stale bread: “The Nolans practically lived on that stale bread and what amazing things Katie could make from it! ... They lived mostly on these things made from stale bread, and condensed milk and coffee, onions, potatoes, and always the penny’s worth of something bought at the last minute, added for fillip.”

Like the Tree of Heaven that grows through the hardened concrete streets of Brooklyn, the will to live outweighs the circumstances. Without giving out the ending, I was a bit disappointed at the ending, which felt too easy of a path for Francie and her family. I shouldn’t be judgmental though. Given it was 1918 (and the book is semi-autobiographical), it is what it was.

Quotes:
On courting and falling in love:
“Feeling his arms around her and instinctively adjusting herself to his rhythm, Katie knew that he was the man she wanted. She’d ask nothing more than to look at him and to listen to him for the rest of her life. Then and there, she decided that those privileges were worth slaving for all her life.
Maybe that decision was her great mistake. She should have waited until some man came along who felt that way about her.”

On the reason to immigrate:
“There is here, what is not in the old country. In spite of hard unfamiliar things, there is here – hope.”

On a child’s pride and fierce protection for a younger sibling:
“’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.’ They stared at this bit of humanity who had become so strangely articulate. Francie’s voice went ragged with a sob. “You don’t have to tell him. Besides it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.’”

On nature’s balance – and hope:
“There had to be the dark and muddy waters so that the sun could have something to background its flashing glory.”

On truth and fancy – and the path of becoming a writer:
From a teacher to Francie: “When something comes up, you tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened. Tell the truth and write the story. Then you won’t get mixed up.”

On being 45 – yikes!
“The day will come, Francie, when you’re forty-five and have a shape like a bag of horses’ oats tied in the middle. Then you’ll look back and long for the old days when men wanted to pinch you.”
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
This is a bittersweet story of coming of age in the pre-WWI tenements of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. Francie and her younger brother Neely, collect junk to sell on Saturdays while their parents eke out a living scrubbing tenement floors (the mom) and singing at weddings (the dad).
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Life is hard, brutal, and frequently short, but the children find their own beauty and strength in family relationships and small triumphs. For those who enjoyed the movie, it only covered about 2/3's of the book. There are several more interesting and hopeful chapters about the Nolan family after the end of the movie. There's also a good deal of humor in the book, which given the grim background is a relief. This book is considered a classic, which means I tolerated a writing style which, in a modern book, would drive me crazy--almost no plot, heavy on the detail, and frequent head-hopping in an omniscient point of view. But I enjoyed the story and, as a Brooklynite, especially enjoyed the setting. It deserves it's title of classic.
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LibraryThing member jedisluzer
Read it when I was nine. Kept reading it through my teens.
LibraryThing member heavyleg
This was my first favorite book. I read it when I was a kid, then reread it at least once every year until the time I was 13 or so. Totally sentimental, full of flowery prose. Apparently even at 7 years old I was a sucker for the epic novels brimming with nostalgia.
LibraryThing member labfs39
Francie Nolan has joined the ranks of one of my favorite girl characters. Although the book is set in the distinct and well-depicted locale of pre-World War I Brooklyn, NY, she is a type familiar to many of us here on LT: a thinker, a watcher, a writer, and above all a reader. The book opens with
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eleven-year-old Francie sitting on her fire escape, watching the life buzzing in the tenements around her and reading in the shade of the big tree which dominates the courtyard. Like Francie, the tree is tenacious, thriving in an environment that seems barely able to sustain life.

Francie's parent are Irish-American, children of immigrants, and poor, yet loving. Katie marries young, works hard, and tries to give her children a better life. According to her mother, Francie's grandmother, the road to American success can be achieved by reading Shakespeare and the Bible every day and saving pennies every week in order to someday own land of your own. Katie's husband, Johnny, is funny and talented, able to sing and dance his way into Katie's heart, but unable to hold a steady job due to his drinking. Despite their dire straights as a result, Francie loves her father, and he nurtures something in her that practical Katie cannot.

Francie and her younger brother Neeley don't feel deprived, because much of Brooklyn lives as they do, and in fact they enjoy many aspects of their life. Francie, however, has an insatiable thirst: for books, for knowledge, for life, and that sets her apart from other children her age. Being an outsider sharpens her powers of observation, and her thoughts and writing reflect it. Ambitious, Francie fanangles her way into a better school, and when forced to leave school and go to work to help support the family, she is able to get a job that not only pays well, but allows her to continue learning. Life is not easy, and Francie is forced to grow up in a hurry, but the spirit of the book is one of hope and redemption.

The author herself grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and her own life is the framework for Francie's story. As a result, the setting is vibrant with life, and the story rings true on a deeper level than simply the plot. Although I think young women would enjoy this as a coming of age story, I think the book has a richness and meaning that might not be appreciated without some life experiences behind one. Well-done.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
A great classic. Well-told, believable, another triumph of the human spirit.
LibraryThing member mcelhra
The main character is Francie Nolan, who is eleven years old when the book starts. She lives in an impoverished area of Brooklyn. This is Francie’s coming of age story but it’s also a lot more than that. It’s about immigration, the American dream, resiliency, family and love. Francie’s
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mother works long, hard hours as an apartment building cleaner. Her father is an alcoholic who works as a singing waiter when he’s not drunk. There are other members of Francie’s family that are prominently featured as well, like her aunts and younger brother.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a novel that you can completely immerse yourself in. Even though there are many characters, they all have great depth. Smith takes her time and the story is told with great attention to detail. It’s semi-autobiographical – Smith grew up in the same part of Brooklyn in the same time period – which I’m sure is why the novel feels so authentic. Highly, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member neferset
I was forced to read this book for my sister's English class that was focusing on American Literature and it instantly became one of my all-time favorite books.

It is the story of Francie Nolan, born to a poor family in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Her father is a drunk who cannot hold a
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steady job, her mother has been hardened by the work of trying to keep the family afloat. It's the depiction of the everyday struggle that I loved most about the book. Whether she's describing Francie ironing her father's apron so that he can go out on a waiter's job at a wedding or detailing all the meals that her mother could make for them out of a week's worth of stale bread, you get immersed in the life they live.

It's been made into two movies. The first one is shown periodically, the second one is shown rarely. Considering the length of time covered in the novel, it's probably better suited to a mini-series sort of treatment.
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