A classic, idyllic (but realistic) walk through early twentieth century Brooklyn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith will forever hold its place in my top favorite books of all time. It is a story about nothing and everything. One little girl and an entire family. One small home and an entire city. Reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is like reading a day in the life, but it’s a book on a life.
Through its nearly 500 pages, you follow the life of Francie Nolan, a second generation American born child through her childhood all the way to adulthood. You watch her go through, as Goodreads puts it, “her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg.” Francie is imaginative, idealistic, curious, and resilient. You see poverty, alcoholism, death, loss, and much more through the eyes of a child. But you also see her love for learning, idyllic days playing in the street and collecting scraps for pennies, her love for both her hardworking mom and alcoholic dad, and so much other beauty.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is life in the early 1900s. It is beautiful and tragic, heartwarming and heart-breaking, full of joy and full of sorrow. It is classified as a coming of age story, but it’s more than that. It is life, plain and simple. I have loved this book from the first time I read it, and will always love reading it. Coming to this book is like coming home. You settle in, you breathe in the story, you live right alongside Francie. Betty Smith did an incredible job of crafting a story that is in many ways relatable and always accessible, while staying true and realistic to the time period in which it is set.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith will always get 5/5 stars.