(Review) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Perennial Modern Classic. First published in 1943. My paperback copy-2005.
Genre: Classic literature. Coming of age story. Comfort read. Women and literature.
Pages: 493.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic literature.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Have you read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I’ve read it 3 or 4 times. I’ve read the story at different ages. It’s interesting how I learn something new each time.

Have you seen the film? It’s wonderful! The film stars: Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, Cliff Robertson, James Dunn, and Peggy Ann Garner (Francine).

Francine (Francie) Nolan and her family live in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The year is 1912. Francine is 11. She has a younger brother named Neeley. Their mother is a janitress in 3 tenement houses including the one they reside. Their father is a singing waiter.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming of age story and a historical fiction story about life in Brooklyn, NY. And, it is a close-up view of a family in crisis because of poverty and alcoholism.
The story begins during the summer of 1912, but backs up to tell the story of her parents. In addition, other family history is given. For example, how the family came to America.

My Thoughts:
When I first began reading the story I thought it was being told in the 3rd person viewpoint narration. This means the narrator is the author. Pronouns are often used: she, he, and they. Betty Smith has the ability of describing a panoramic picture of scenes and people. But, I noticed a deeper level of the characters are shown. For example: “Francie didn’t notice that he said my last home instead of our last home.” Page 121. “The panic came on her again and she ran all the way home.” Page 15. Then, I realized the story is told in the omniscient narration. This means I’m told what the character is thinking and feeling. I’m brought closer to the characters because I develop a feeling for them.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a story with adult themes. It is a story with imperfect characters. It is a story with hard life circumstances. It is a story without simple answers and happy endings. It is a believable story because of these reasons.
Some examples of themes: alcoholism, poverty, starvation, abuse, courage, hope, compassion, death, loneliness, shame, prejudice, discrimination, marriage, and parenting.
The pacing is a leisure but steady pace. I relaxed in the story like falling into a fluffy feather bed.
Despite the hardship of Francie’s life, there are tender moments where I saw security, unity, and love in their family.
I saw a transformation in how Francie viewed people. By the age of 12, she began to see life through a different lens.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my top 5 favorite books. It’s a story I fell in love with and have stayed in love-no matter my age. It is a comfort story. It is memorable and endearing.

Memorable Quotes:

“It was a good thing that she got herself into this other school. It showed her that there were other worlds beside the world she had been born into and that these other worlds were not unattainable.” Page 174.

“Only it didn’t seem good to Francie. She began to understand that her life might seem revolting to some educated people. She wondered, when she got educated, whether she’d be ashamed of handsome papa who had been so lighthearted, kind and understanding; ashamed of brave and truthful Mama who was so proud of her own mother, even though Grandma couldn’t read or write; ashamed of Neeley who was such a good honest boy? No! No! If being educated would make her ashamed of what she was, then she wanted none of it.” Page 323.

“Christmas was a charmed life in Brooklyn…You have to be a child to know how wonderful is a store window filled with dolls and sleds and other toys. And this wonder came free to Francie. It was nearly as good as actually having the toys to be permitted to look at them through the glass window.” Page 198.

Betty Smith (1896-1972)

4 thoughts on “(Review) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

  1. This was the book that got me started on reading for pleasure. I was a young girl starting my teens myself and fell in love with this book. Yes, I have re-read it and also just downloaded it on my Kindle, just to have it. I recently won another book by Betty Smith called TOMORROW WILL BE BETTER and am looking forward to reading and reviewing that one. Great review.


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