Review: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

Image credited to Molly G. @ The Bumbles Blog

There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn.
Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.

Book Title: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Original Publication Date: 1943
Edition Read:
Perennial Library, 1968
Total Pages:
Classic Young Adult
Reason Read:
Discovered my original review on the inner flap and decided to re-read
4 out of 5 Stars

“Wonderful story.
Clearly paints a picture in your mind of the crueltys, hardships, and joys of early 1900’s lifestyle in the city of Brooklyn, New York.
Truley a classic novel.
If there all girls were like Francie, the world would be a better place to live.”

~ Molly C. (long before she was Molly G.)

Forget for a moment the spelling errors in that quote. Or the fact that Brooklyn was no longer its own city in the early 1900’s but rather a borough of NYC. I was just a kid when I wrote my review on the inside of the cover of a paperback copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Best I can figure, I read it the summer before I turned 14. I had just moved to CT and was preparing to start my freshman year of high school as the new kid without any friends other than the characters I met in my books. So it is no wonder I identified with Francie Nolan.

If you have never read this classic novel, it tells the tale of the Nolan family, primarily through young Francie’s eyes, living in poverty in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. The Nolans have a way of sucking it up and getting things done. They don’t complain but always strive for better things in life for the future. They believe strongly in family and education and those ideals give Francie and her brother a reliable base from which to build. Francie is a loner who is often on the outside looking in, so she loses herself in books, her imagination and writing. She gets dealt an overdose of life lessons as the story follows her from ages 11 to 17. And your heart goes out to this determined young girl as you root for her to get lucky in life.

Well let me tell you, it must have felt comforting to have Francie in my corner while I was adjusting to a new place, all alone except for my family. There is a lot for a young girl to identify with in this book. I never experienced poverty, city living or loss of close loved ones as a child. These are strong themes within the book. But just like Francie, I did have a love for the library. I changed my mind from year to year about what dreams I had for myself and what I wanted to be. I went through times where I felt all alone without friends to turn to. I had a little brother to share things with. My mother has always worked hard and is a strong woman – so are her sisters. I loved being Daddy’s little girl. I had moments where I was picked on in school. And others where school was my favorite place to be. I made up stories in my head and learned to write them down. I wondered when I would find true love. I had relatives who could brighten a room with their storytelling. I must have wanted to make Francie my best – and only – friend in my new town. No wonder I thought the world would be a better place if everyone was like her. That would mean they were kind and smart and sensitive – especially to girls like me.

Thankfully I found some real life girls who took me under their wing the first few weeks of high school and they remain my dear friends to this very day. They made my new town feel like a place I could think of as home. And I didn’t need to drown myself in books and writing – I could actually join the world of the living. But Francie got me through that rough patch. She was just what I needed.

When I found the musty old paperback on the bookshelves at my parents’ on a visit back to CT I borrowed it since I didn’t remember much other than a strong sense of sentimentality and fondness. Imagine my surprise when, months later, I opened it up and found my teenage review. I was even more intrigued to re-discover this story. Reading this again entering my 40’s, I can look back fondly and see why I enjoyed it so much the first time around. What makes this novel so endearing is that there is a piece of Francie in most any young girl who loves to read. And getting to meet her and the rest of the Nolan family again was a real treat.

I would have to say that my original review was spot on. The world needs more Francies in it. But if you don’t have one handy, you can always go right to the source and bond with the girl in the book.

Do you have a favorite book that helped you through your childhood journey?


About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
This entry was posted in Classics, coming of age, Fiction, Posts by Molly, YA. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Review: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

  1. Susanna P says:

    I love, love, love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I first read it in fifth grade (which was probably a bit too young; my mom had to explain some parts), and since then I’ve read it two or three more times. Each re-read I find something that I missed previously. πŸ™‚

    • Bumbles says:

      I really enjoy revisiting childrens or YA books because most of the time, the plot details have escaped my memory so it is like getting to know a long lost friend all over again.

  2. Annie says:

    I love your …. review ! Thanks !

  3. Unbelievably, I have never read this book, but you have inspired me to make it my goal to do so. I love the review you wrote as a teenager – what a joy to be able to find it so many years later! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Bumbles says:

      I have not come across any other “reviews” or my thoughts jotted inside any other old books from my past. So obviously this book made a strong impression. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

  4. Kay says:

    I’m so impressed that you wrote a review of this book when you were so young. I’m not sure I knew what revews were at that age! LOL

    I love this book. I think I first read it at about the same age as you, early teens. I reread it while back with my book club. I was still immediately drawn in to the story and loved it even more for its timelessness. Amazingly, most of my book club had not ever read it and many of the ladies are a decade or two older than my 53. It was very popular among the group. I can recommend it with my whole heat, for ladies of any age, young to old.

    • Bumbles says:

      How interesting to see such a broad age range taking away similar reactions. It will resonate with most everyone I think in some way. The writing was a joy to spend time with and so were the characters.

  5. jehara says:

    I’ve never read this, but you make a strong case for doing so. I like the story behind the story. Thanks for sharing. I am impressed that you left a review on the inside cover. I never wrote in my books when I was young. How interesting to be able to get a glimpse at your adolescent self! πŸ™‚

    • Bumbles says:

      I didn’t have a lot of books to write in because usually they came from the library. But I always wrote my name inside the front cover of one that I was lucky enough to own so no one else would take it!

  6. Penelope says:

    I haven’t read this book, but everyone who has read it has had such a strong liking of it. I think I need to get myself a copy and read it. And by the way, I think it’s fantastic that you found your review from so long ago! It’s so interesting to be able to look back at ourselves at such a young age.

    • Bumbles says:

      It was funny to see my thoughts captured like that right inside the flap of the book. Some day that book will get passed down to other young girls I know and my youthful thoughts being there for them to see kinda makes me smile.

  7. Margot says:

    I read this book at about the same age and circumstances as you. It meant the world to me too. I’ve reread it twice since then and Francie still captures my heart every time. I may do one more reread before passing my book on to my granddaughters.

    One of the images that stands out for me every time I read A Tree is the library. I can not only see in my head what that library looks like, I can smell it as well. It’s made me very fond of old libraries.

    • Bumbles says:

      It is truly a story for book lovers isn’t it? That library and love of reading gave Francie such a wonderful reserve throughout her life.

  8. Heather says:

    I loved this one. So poignant and beautiful at the same time. I really enjoyed her voice. This one really resonated with me. Great review. And how fun you found your old copy with a review from when you were younger!!

    • Bumbles says:

      I love poking around my parents bookshelves when I go home. My mother constantly threw out lots of my keepsakes over the years that I left behind when I got older because they were just junk to her. But she has never thrown out a book. They are real treasures. I love coming across some of her old favorites and discovering the passages she underlined.

  9. izzybella says:

    I have never read this either, but it sounds wonderful. I’m struck by what a thoughtful teenager you were. I would have been more along the lines of “this was a good book and I liked it” without any reflection at all. Truly teenage bumble was a good bumble. πŸ™‚

  10. Bumbles, I loved, loved, LOVED this book when I was a kid. Francie definitely helped me get through my childhood. Great review! And as far as your question, another book that got me through was Up the Down Staircase. I idolized the teacher in that book, so much so that I developed a deep and lasting appreciation for Chaucer.

    • Bumbles says:

      Wow – I have never heard of Up The Down Staircase – how is that possible since I have a degree in education and love all books about fighting the teacher’s fight?! I have added to my To Read list right away!!!

  11. Louise says:

    How fantastic to find the thoughts of your teenaged self! I read this book a few years ago. Sadly it was at a time when my uncle was dying. On the day he died I came home from the hospital, and tried to read a bit. Coincidentally the start of the chapter I was reading that day, had Francie’s thoughts on chemistry. It was very moving, and took on a special poignance. I ended up reading that passage when we scattered his ashes a few weeks later, and I think it will make an appropriate passage for when the time comes to scatter my ashes too.

  12. stacybuckeye says:

    I love when you show your copy of the book in your reviews. It gives it so much more personality.
    How very cool that you had your thoughts written in the book for you to rediscover all these years later. This is one I’ve seen on so many lists, but haven’t picked it up because of the depressing factor. Your review makes me think I’ve been missing out.

  13. Bumbles says:

    Well, while there are some sad parts of life for Francie and her family, I took away more how she was like that tree growing in Brooklyn – determined, strong and persistent. You would love to meet her.

  14. kaye says:

    I’ve got to read this book–you’ve mentioned this story before and I felt compelled to read it then. I’ll try to remember to add it to my goodreads list this time:/ There are just so many books to read.

    I read so many books when I was a teenager that only a handful really standout in my mind. One was called “When the Legends Die”. The story was about a native American who was also a professional rodeo rider (I think he was a bull-rider) The story dealt with the anguish he experienced being torn between two cultures. I found it very interesting and it taught me to appreciate their native culture.

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