Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

September 18, 2011


“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith is a historical fiction book set in … Brooklyn. The book was published in 1943 and became an instant best seller despite criticism on its content.

  • 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0061120073

Buy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from*My rating for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn5
Buy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from*
More Books by Betty Smith*


“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith is considered an American classic and an essential part of American literature. The book describes life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn and is a testament for the hope kindled in immigrants who came to the United States.

Not surprisingly, this well written book emphasizes the value of good educations, good teachers, community and family.

“Before they went to bed, Francie and Neeley had to read a page of the Bible and a page from Shakespeare. That was a rule. Mama used to read the two pages to them each night until they were old enough to read for themselves. To save time, Neeley read the Bible page and Francie read from Shakespeare.”

To be honest, I ignored this book for a long time. I had several chances to read it but chose something more “manly” each and every time. Finally the “classic book club” I belong to has chosen this book and I decided that this is it.
I’m going to read it.

The reason I always passed on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is because it has always been billed as “a book every girl/woman should read”. That tag line didn’t sound to enticing to me.

Once I did read it I discovered that all the taglines and advertising did injustice to the book. This is not as “a book every girl/woman should read” but a book that everyone should read. While the story is also about the coming of age of young Francie Nolan, it is also a touching testament to the early immigrant spirit and the hardships of life which were rarely written about first hand.

“‘This could be a whole life,’ she thought. ‘You work eight hours a day covering wires to earn money to buy food and to pay for a place to sleep that you can keep living to come back to cover more wires. Some people are born and kept living just to come to this.”

Even though this book was not written as historical fiction, I believe that it squarely falls in that category in 2011. The story is a powerful look at the time using relatable characters (even for guys). The book reminds us how lucky we are to live in this time, where the daily dilemma is should you download the new song from iTunes instead of not knowing where you’re going to get those ten cents to feed your family for the day.

So tell me, what book that you put off because you thought you wouldn’t like surprised you once you read it?


Young teen Francie Nolan’s family has many struggles. This Irish-American family faces poverty, alcoholism and the brutal realities of life in turn of the century New York City.

Buy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from*
More Books by Betty Smith*

Zohar – Man of la Book
Disclaimer: I bought this book
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on books

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith


  • Lucky47September 18, 2011 at 11:02 am

    This is one of my favorite books. I actually read it when I was 13 years old. I loved the movie as well. A book I put off even though I love reading about Scottish Highlanders was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The cover itself was so bland and it was so thick I just kept putting it off. A few years later I actually started reading excerpts and blurbs and that was it.I read all 7 books in the series over an entire summer.
    It’s unbelievable. Filled with so much History from Europe and America and has time travel etc etc. I’m glad I waited though because I never cold have waited the few years in between books. 🙂
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    • zoharSeptember 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

      I’m also putting off the Outlander even though I’ve heard good things about it.

  • CheSeptember 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I’ve been dithering about this book for sometime, largely because some of the reviews I read gave me the impression that it would be too sappy for my tastes. But after your review I think I’m going to put it on my TBR list.
    The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy surprised me. My idea of humor is Wodehouse and I haven’t even a nodding acquaintance with sci-fi/outer space books so I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

  • Alex BaughSeptember 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my very favorite childhood reads, and I have never reread it or any of my favorites – afraid of being disappointed and ruining the magic.

    A book I put off reading was Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I don’t even really know why, but when I read it, I loved it (loved all of Woolf’s works actually)

  • AnnaSeptember 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I can see how you’d be put off thinking it was a book to be enjoyed only be women. I’m glad you ended up really liking it. I read it a few years ago and absolutely loved it. I fell in love with all of the characters and didn’t want it to end.

    I didn’t think I’d enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird, but I read it last year for the 50th anniversary and was blown away. It makes me wish I’d read it sooner, but I think I read it at just the right time to truly understand and cherish it.

  • Rose City ReaderSeptember 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Books sit on my TBR shelf so long before I read them that I have that experience all the time — Why didn’t I read this before? I love it!

    But I never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I thought it would be sappy. Now I want to read it.

  • AartiSeptember 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I just read this book this year, too, and ADORED it. I fell completely in love with Francie and her family. However, I think you are mistaken if you think that there aren’t people today who live in poverty and have a hand-to-mouth existence; that is certainly still out there, even in the US.

    • zoharSeptember 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      Thanks for the comment Aarti. I don’t doubt that there are people who live hand-to-mouth in the US but it’s certainly not as prevalent as it is in the rest of the world.

  • MarieSeptember 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I have read this but not reviewed it on my blog. I agree with you 100%- it’s essential reading, something everyone should read. Such a wonderful, wonderful book- one of the best I’ve ever read about childhood!

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