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4.4 out of 5 stars69
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on 27 May 2005
I was seriously deprived as an adolescent. I never even heard of Betty Smith's classic novel "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," let alone read it. And I was an avid reader who lived relatively close to Brooklyn. Whatever the reason for this significant omission in my early literary development, I remedied the situation recently, (yes, it took me a while). I can only echo here what millions of other readers have said since the book's publication in 1943, this is an extraordinary novel which enriches and delights. I can understand why The New York Public Library chose it as one of the "Books of the Century."
Ms. Smith grew up in Brooklyn and drew from her own experiences to portray the hardships of the Nolans, a tenement family living in that borough's Williamsburg slums during the early part of the 20 century. Teenage Francie Nolan is an avid reader who wants to become a writer. She adores her father John, an alcoholic with a multitude of pipe dreams. He, in turn, loves his children and tries to be a good father, but he is not able to carry out his responsibilities. Nolan has become a dissipated man due to his alcohol addiction. Francie believes in him regardless, (and she's the only one), because they're soul-mates. Although it seems contradictory, the girl also possesses a strong practical streak. Her mother, Katie, abandoned all illusions for a better life long ago. She is rendered almost emotionless by a surfeit of her husband's grand schemes. However she stresses to her children that education is the only path out of the tenements. Grandma Rommely, Katie's mother, also reinforces the importance of education.
There is a single ordinary tree visible from the Nolan's tenement window. It grows doggedly through the cement, in spite of harsh conditions which thwart it's development. Yet, it perseveres. For Francie and her father the tree symbolizes hope - the blossoming of life against all odds. It is like a beacon of of light in the darkness of their daily lives. Francie has the tenacity of that tree, and remains steadfast to her dreams. Unlike her father, she has the inner strength and resourcefulness to make them come true.
The author poignantly depicts the Nolan's struggles to survive and grow in a world of poverty, hunger, class prejudice and tremendous loss. Francie, a courageous girl, of strong character, comes of age here under extremely difficult circumstances. The portrait of her family members and her relationship with them is beautifully drawn, especially her relationship with her brother Neely. And turn-of-the-century Williamsburg is brought vividly to life. Broader topics are also introduced which enhance the narrative tremendously, such as, WWI, immigration, and politics of the period. Smith's characters are strong and well developed. She uses flashbacks to tell the fascinating story of John Nolan's courtship of Katie, their marriage and early years together.
"A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" is a heartfelt, moving novel which touched me deeply. Betty Smith's prose is powerful, as are her storyline and characters. Author Anna Quindlen writes an excellent Foreward for this edition. This is a book I will keep to reread in the future. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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on 6 November 2009
I first read 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' when I was 15. My father was given it by one of his many drinking buddies and brought it home with him. He gave it to me as I was an avid reader and would pretty much read anything I could lay my hands on (even a random book like this one seemed) Little did I know the effect this novel would have on me. It is one of the most memorable and moving books that I have ever read.

I have read it at least six times since that first time. I read it when I need to feel inspired and to be reassured at the resilience, bravery and beauty of the human spirit. It is beautifully written but at the same time immensely readable. Francie is a most extraordinary child - her relationships with her mother and father in particular are moving and real. When I've recommended it to others though I have found it hard to explain why it is so special - it doesn't have a tightly drawn plot - it is really all about characterisation and emotion whilst remaining as hard to put down as a thriller. I guess what I'm saying is it is a novel that is hard to categorise which makes it all the more special.
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on 6 July 2013
Like another reviewer, I can't explain why it took me so long to discover this book. I can vaguely remember the advertisements for the Elia Kazan film based on it, but not the book itelf. I had recently promised to undertake some reviews of crime novels - something I enjoyed and I had a number to get through. Suddenly that stopped because I found this book, simply as a result of a chance remark, and I had to read it. Having done so,I had to read it again. I know and have read all the otherr contenders for the title of Great American Novel - The Great Gatsby, For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Kill a Mocking Bird - but I find they all fall short of this book. It has so much to say about the human condition and creates the perfect context in which to say it. The dreams we have, both for ourselves and for others, are represented by a young girl's love for a father who, in spite of loving her in return, has failed her. Her mother, virtually a drudge, has hopes for her children and, in her own small way, seeks to make them come true. In all the relationships there is a poignancy which tugs at the heart strings because most of us who think at all have experienced this same sense of wanting to do better, to be better people, to make a difference. This young girl eventually manages that and we rejoice for her.
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on 24 November 2001
I read this book a few months back, simply because it sounded really good. After I'd really gotten into it, I couldn't put it down. It is both inspiring and astounding, which is hard to find in a book. It really portrays how a working-class family lived in Brooklyn in the 1900s, and, although the jumps from time-to-time are a little confusing, they are very real, and help you to really understand the family. I actually cried at several points in this book, even though what was coming was inevitable, and I truly think it is a great book for all ages (I'm only 12!)
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on 2 October 2001
This is the emotional tale of a young girl and her childhood years spent in workingclass Brooklyn during the beginning of the 20th century.
The harsh environment and unglamourous livingconditions are described in a manner that makes one feel like one is actually there.
Because of the authors extraordinary ability to descibe different senses of mood and environmentcharacteristics, you actually get the feeling that you are in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, gazing up at the grand tree which, like the family, seems to live out of dirt and cement, but still, in the end, survives.
In my opinion, it is somewhat of a classic "Cindarella"-story wherein we experience the evolvement the girl undergoes from childhood to adulthood, and can be able to reasonably link her childhood-experiences to the girl she ends up being.
A book definetely worth offering attention to.
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on 21 October 2013
This story brings us through the various stages of growing up in a rough, poor area and I thought it was very realistic. The characters were endearing and there were lots of different types of story lines being carried through the book, which kept it interesting.
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VINE VOICEon 10 February 2012
The blurb on the cover of ATGIB compares this 1943 novel to Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - a promising start. The comparison is accurate - they are both largely autobiographical novels set in the backdrop of extreme poverty, Catholicism and with a running theme of triumph over adversity. The main difference is that Frank McCourt's book (and its follow ups 'Tis: A memoir and Teacher Man) were written only a few years ago, which in terms of their overall style, makes them considerably more palatable to a modern readership.

But don't let the age of this novel put you off: it's an engrossing, heart-warming, feel-good read - one of those increasingly rare books that you will not want to put down. I found myself totally absorbed by the story of Francie and the Rommely women, fascinated by their resourcefulness and their independent spirit. From a historical point of view, the novel is also a reminder that, in a not too-distant past, life was harsher that most of us in the West can now remotely imagine. ATGIB is one of those books that will make you look at what you have with fresh eyes and appreciate it a lot more.
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on 20 February 2011
I first read this book when I was 13, (am now 59) and stayed up all night to finish it! Even though I must have read thousands of books since, this one is the first I think of when asked which is my favourite book. It provides an understandable picture of life in Brooklyn at the time, and the dynamics of the family members are moving, funny, inspirational and tragic all at the same time....Quite simply the best book I've ever read, and a story I often think about!
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on 21 May 2008
I got this book in a pile of 2nd hand books and it was one of only a few I kept. I got into it straight away and was enthralled all the way to the end. The characters are wonderful and rich and despite being a million miles away from Brooklyn and it's history I found it so easy to get entwined in.
It also reminded me how lucky many of us are now compared to the poverty back then.
Highly recommended.
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on 22 September 1999
I just finished reading it a few days ago, and I must say that it defines reality very well. It was one of the best books I have ever read. I recommend it to young adults.
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