A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Author: Betty Smith
Published: 1943
Publisher: Harper & Brothers
Genre: Literature
Format: E-book
Pages: 493 pages
ISBN-10: 0-060-92988-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-060-92988-6
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Grade Sheet

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Characterized by a beautifully meandering coming-of-age plot, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the life of an Irish-American family living in Brooklyn, whose characters become more and more charming as the story goes on.

I tend to shy away from stories that lack strong, solid plotlines, but this novel took the classic character-focused bildingsroman story to new heights. Not only does the protagonist Francie Nolan age, learn, and grow in this story, but so does the rest of her family as they face the obstacles after obstacles. Poignant and beautiful in its grittiness, the story is divided into five parts, all of which are equally arresting. Smith illustrates poverty, immigrant hardships, and inner-city life in a way that is candid and honest without being demeaning or preachy. I love the understated quality of the prose that is, like Francie, beautiful in its ferocious plainness and earnest desire to be so much more than ordinary. Smith’s characters and their intricate relationships are so carefully constructed that they appear to leap off the page as soon as they are introduced. Not once did the back-and-forth perspectives or non-chronological narrative disorient me, and part of me always hungered to know more and more about each character and have every minute of their lives described to me — because Smith magically makes even the most mundane facts and actions seem epic and absolutely vital to the unfolding of the story.

The Verdict

This is a hefty book, but it is so worth it. There is no need to read this in one sitting from start to finish; in fact, I read it over the span of two weeks so that I could appreciate every nuance and take in all the details. Absolutely pick this up. It will bring you to tears, and you won’t even be able to explain why.