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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 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 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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Written over sixty years ago, time has not diminished the capacity of this book to capture the reader's heart. This coming of age story that takes place in turn of the century Brooklyn will simply enthrall the reader with its descriptive passages and its richly developed characters. This book survives the passage of time without becoming anachronistic, because the themes upon which it touches are universal ones.

The story centers on the Nolan family. The central character is the daughter, Mary Frances Nolan. Known as "Francie" to all and sundry, she is an intelligent child growing up in poverty in the tenements of Brooklyn with her charming father, a singing waiter and an alcoholic, her hard-working and practical, no-nonsense mother, and her younger brother, who enjoys favored son status in his mother's heart. Surrounding the family are a host of characters that are richly drawn and serve to add to the ambiance of the story as it enfolds.

The events that unfold are seen through Francie's eyes. Her family's struggle with poverty, her father's alcoholism, her mother's steely-eyed determination to keep her family afloat, and Francie's thirst for knowledge and desire for higher education all serve to make this child strong and thrive, where others might only despair. Such is Francie's strength of character. It is that strength that helps her to battle her self-doubts, her loneliness, and lack of friends, while growing up.

This is a beautifully rendered story, a true American classic that will keep the reader turning its pages.
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on 30 December 2003
This is paper and ink that through the mystical alchemy of writing becomes something other.
The descriptions of early twentieth century Brooklyn are vivid and observant. The neighbourhood is brought to life in all of its squalor and glory. Francie Nolan, the heroine, is often hungry and cold and she lives in the slums but she cannot complain of boredom. The world is at her doorstep and she is a resilient child living in the new world. She is not condemned to live the tough old life that her parents and grandparents lead. An optimistic note underpins the harshness of Francie's existence.
There is some exploration of social and family issues throughout the book and these are thought-provoking. The thing I like best though, is the book's pathos. I wept a lot while I read 'A Tree'. I wept for the poor Nolan children at every turn. I was very moved by my tears and shall certainly pull this book out again when I need to let go of my emotions! Smith really knows how to wring the reader's heart out. It's mostly in the small ways that she gets me - the ways in which people show one another that they care, the unselfish acts, the unasked for kindnesses, the strong helping the less strong.
This is a lovely book with only a few overdoses of schmaltz (what could be more fitting for a story set in Brooklyn?) I guarantee you won't be left dry-eyed.
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on 21 February 2016
Absolutely loved this book. It took me a few chapters to get into it but I was encouraged by all the great reviews and right enough, I got completely hooked. All the characters seem so real and the setting is incredibly vivid. The characters all have positive and negative parts to them but it just makes it feel like you're reading about a real family. And reading it sitting here in today's comparative luxury it is very humbling to get what feels like a real insight into another time and another way of living. Despite incredible hardship, there is so much love and laughter in the book. I have just finished it and have got a real sense of loss. Massively recommend this book.
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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 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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