Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Published: Originally 1943 by Harper & Brothers
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Synopsis: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.
One of the most interesting things about this book is that I'm not really sure how to categorize it. It's a fictionalization of the author's upbringing, so it's not quite a memoir but it's also not quite fiction either. But if it is in fact fiction it's hard to place it in a genre. The book was written in 1943 but takes place in the early 1900s. You could accurately say that it is Historical Fiction but it also feels very current and contemporary. What this book absolutely does is make the reader feel what it was like to grow up poor at the start of the 20th century in Brooklyn. It's a completely immersive experience.

The book was an extremely real and gritty portrayal of the life and the time period it was presenting. It didn't gloss over the difficulties of life and being poor. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn focuses almost entirely on those difficult and sad moments in life but it also shows how you need those moments to appreciate the good and happy moments in life. When you're reading this book you feel as if you are part of the Nolan family, struggling to make ends meet and wondering how you are going to find a nickel to buy food. But you also feel the sense of love within the family and the sense of hope that a better life is possible. I expected to have a serious emotional reaction to this book and while it didn't bring me to tears (which a lot of books do) I did feel a deep connection to this family and their struggle.

The plot of the book could very easily have become monotonous and dull but Betty Smith effortlessly immersed the reader in the world of Brooklyn and the Nolans with beautiful prose and a style of writing that allows you to easily connect with the characters. I read this book as part of my "Geek Books" month and the main character of Francie definitely fit the bill of the types of characters in this theme. She is a voracious reader who finds it hard to make friends and loves school but with her family situation employment has to take the place of further education. I instantly connected with Francie and her desire to succeed despite and because of her upbringing. I loved being along for the ride for her coming-of-age story.

This book made me appreciate so much about my life and personal experience. It made me appreciate my family and the opportunities I had, and it made me appreciate the fact that like Francie I can read to escape, learn, and explore something outside of myself. The book was a phenomenal classic and reminded me a lot of books like Little Women and Little House on the Prairie.

I give A Tree Grow in Brooklyn by Betty Smith a 9 out of 10

I would definitely recommend this book if you like modern classics from the mid 20th Century like To Kill A Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye. If you like coming-of-age stories with beautiful writing that illicits an emotional response then check this book out. 

Have you read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. If you haven't read it, what are some of your favorite Modern Classics, I love these kinds of books and would love to read some more. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING! 


  1. Awesome review, and accurate rating. One of my favorite modern classics, and I think it really does make people think and reflect about their own lives! It is beautiful.

  2. My faaaaaavorite! I'm so glad you read it!! Great review!