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 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.