A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

Written by Betty Smith 
Genre/Topics: Fiction, Coming-of-Age 
Published in 1943
512 pages 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the beautifully told story about a young girl’s coming-of-age in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1900s. Francie Nolan faces many struggles growing up, but she’s very determined to not let this stop her. Some struggles that face her family are poverty and a father who is often drunk. When Francie is born, her mother, Katie, is told that the key to succeed is an education. Katie instructs her children, Francie and her brother Neeley, to read one page of Shakespeare and a page from the Bible every night. The family has a close relationship and they work together, such as Francie and Neeley collect junk for money that they contribute to the household.

The tree growing in Brooklyn, New York, refers to a tree that grows outside Francie’s bedroom. It is unlike any tree, because it is able to grow through difficult environments. The symbolism is that Francie also is able to grow in any situation. Here is a quote from Francie’s perspective of the tree:

Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.

Francie’s mother feels her children won’t have her struggles, but instead will flourish and become successful in life. Here is a quote from Katie’s perspective as she compares the tree to her children:

Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.

Francie is always curious about her surroundings and the fact that her family struggles with money doesn’t stop her curiosity. She’s fond of books her entire life. She often feels as though she is alone with few girl friends, but her wonder and curiosity takes her places and she’s never truly alone. Here is a quote that describes Francie’s love of books:

Oh magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words!…From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.

This is the second time I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn almost exactly a year ago. I apologize for the lengthy review, but this is one of my favorite books. This time I read the book on my kindle and I’ve never made so many highlights throughout the book that captured my attention. Basically the book is just about a girl and her family making the best of their situation and thriving to succeed, but it feels like so much more than that. I highly recommend this book.

2011 Book Reflections

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Personally, 2011 has been a wonderful book year! I always enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, rating books, and sharing recommendations. Similar to Word Press’ daily post, goodreads encouraged readers to set a reading goal for 2011. Mine wasn’t as daring as other readers, but I completed and read beyond my goal. I’m now going to share my favorite books from 2011. These aren’t full book reviews, instead just mini highlights.

Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

True this book was huge, but it’s been on my ‘to-read’ list for a very long time. I’ve always enjoyed the movie and since the book is normally better, I decided to conquer the book. Well, I can’t watch the movie anymore since it doesn’t give the book justice. There’s a little of everything: romance, revenge, suspense, murder, and more. The book took me about a month to read, but it was highly worth it. I also listened to the book, which added to the excitement.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I would describe The Shadow of the Wind as a book lovers book. Many scenes are within an old bookstore where all the books have a soul. The book is full of suspense and mystery. I don’t want to share too much, but this is a book that I couldn’t put down and I was sad when it was finished.

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Perhaps I was attracted to the book, since the black Labrador on the cover is similar to my own dog. The entire book is from the dog’s perspective how he tries to please his owners with a purpose. The book had me laughing aloud and crying. I enjoyed A Dog’s Purpose so much that I’ve already read it again. If you’re hesitant to read this book, since all dogs in dog books seem to die I’d reconsider this book. It has an interesting twist.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This book is a coming of age story about a girl living in Brooklyn, New York. She experiences struggles and takes comfort in reading. She’s very curious about her world and wants to gain information.



 Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

This book takes place the turn of the twentieth century in New York City. It is the true story of a woman’s relationship with Louis Comfort Tiffany and stained glass.



 The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

I first read this book, because my library had a community reads together. It is the true story about a young boy living in Malawi, who deals with poverty, famine, and daily struggles to survive. He’s forced to leave school, since his family can’t afford the tuition. He continues to read and learn from the library. He desires to help his family and community and creates a windmill to produce electricity. The story is very inspirational and makes you want to keep trying to reach your goals.

New Authors: A new and enjoyable author that I read this year is Lisa See. I read Shanghai GirlsDreams of Joy, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Her books focus upon family relationships, historical fiction, and Chinese influences.



Another new author I discovered is Carl Hiaasen. I read Scat and Hoot. These books were for middle school age that were mysteries focused upon environmental issues.

In 2011, I purchased a kindle and I never thought I would read from an electric device. I read about twenty books on my kindle, but I still enjoy ‘real’ books.

I also started this blog in the middle of 2011, which encouraged me to read more diverse books and write reviews. It gives me great pleasure to recommend books for others to enjoy. I’m always looking for new books, so please feel free to share your own recommendations. Hopefully, 2012 brings more wonderful books to enjoy!