September 24, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

8 of 10: A classic for a reason. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the ultimate coming of age story.

The first book I listened to on CD when I moved here was Angela's Ashes. I know it's practically heresy to say so, but, um, I deeply disliked it.

And when I started A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I suddenly worried it was more of the same. Same horrible poverty, same alcoholic father. I had just sat through four discs of this, could I really do another thirteen CDs?

But whereas I could never find it in my heart to like Frank much at all, I fell in love with Francie.

The book really isn't just about Francie, though. It's about her whole family. After a brief introduction to Francie, the story backs up and you get the entire story of Francie's parents and their parents, the histories of their various siblings until you finally arrive back at the point the story began with. By the time the book ends, you'll probably know more about Francie's family and personal life than you do about your own.

Parts of this book reminded me of Louisa May Alcott's books or Laura Ingalls Wilder's series with the descriptions of the food or clothing or living conditions, which I loved as a child and still find a ridiculous amount of pleasure in, but this book has far more mature themes and I'm not surprised (nor do I regret) that I didn't read this book as a child.

Riding the T the other day, on my way to the airport, I glanced over at what the person sitting beside me was reading and could tell from the page that it was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Oh, did I feel smart and cultured.

This is a book I'm glad to have read, simply because it is so famous and so beloved. But it is also a book I'm glad to have read because it is so rich and powerful.


  1. I don't even know how many times I've read this story. I read it when I was coming of age... and so it's really MY story (minus the alcoholic father, etc.). I'm glad you loved it too.

  2. I read this as a teen and then reread as an adult. I liked it much more as an adult & its one of my favorite books; and I'm always surprised when people say it's a childrens book or come into the library wanting their child to read it. I think they often confuse the film with the book, because the same themes and mature situations in this book are ones the parents usually expliclity don't want in the books they want for their children.

  3. I love this book! I've read it a few times and I'm sure will read it again.

  4. I've never read this one, but I'll add it to my list.

    I will say proudly, though, that I freaking HATED Angela's Ashes. And I read it back when it came out, at the height of the Oprah/everyone lovefest.

  5. I am so glad you loved it--this is one of my all-time favorite books and it just warms the cockles of my Francie-loving heart when someone else enjoys it as much as I do.


  6. janssen- seriously that Gap website has given me so much trouble today i cant stand it! try the link off of my facebook.

  7. I mean...*I* love, love, love this book. Not *K*. stupid typo!

  8. 1. I tried Angela's Ashes last year and got about halfway through before I gave it up. I haven't told anyone for fear or being shunned. :)
    2. I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was younger and have been meaning to reread it for several months now. I even bought a prettier copy when I was at Half Price Books a few weeks ago, so it's waiting for me when I get around to it! I'm glad you liked it.

  9. I've tried to read this book and couldn't get into it. I guess i will have to try again one of these days.

  10. The best book ever.

  11. Recipe To Make a Chichi:

    tiny nose
    smoochy checks
    stubby fingers
    taffy hair
    bean poles
    sloth-like tendencies during clean up
    whine whine whine
    and one very bossy older sister

  12. I read this as a kid and though I didn't understand some of it at the time I remember really liking it. Need to re-read it!

  13. Hey, since you are the buyer of many a plane tickets :) what do you think is the best/cheapest online source to buy tickets through? Looks like Dave has a school interview in Rhode Island- he might need to use your couch ;)

  14. You make me feel so guilty. I need to open a book.

  15. I've been wondering what you thought of this one. It's an all-time favorite for me. I think I read it first somewhere towards the beginning of college (or end of high school). I reread it about a year ago and was suprised at the depth and maturity of some of the themes (that I didn't remember). Still love it.

    Haven't read Angelas Ashes (I think I tried, but maybe not). I have bought Teacher Man (by Frank McCourt) and just can't get into it. I heard him speak at an AP conference and was falling out of my chair, he was so funny. I was thus sorely disappointed in the book.

  16. You've inspired me to read this again. I really enjoyed it when I was younger.


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