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351 of 365 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Francie Nolan is a character who will long be remembered by anyone who reads "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Bright but lonely, poor but resourceful, Francie Nolan is captured from ages 11 to 16 with poignancy and love. Francie is her daddy's "prima donna" and she treasures his love while fighting to win her mother's. Although she never achieves the place in her mother's heart that her brother holds, her strength and sheer perserverance guide her through difficult times. Like the sturdy tree that grows outside her window and survives all catastrophes, Francie Nolan survives poverty, lack of formal education, sexual assault, extreme loneliness, and lost love.
The reader first meets Francie at age 11 when, as an inquisitive young girl, her favorite time of the day is on Saturday when she can go to the library then rush home with her treasure and read the afternoon away on the fire escape of her Brooklyn tenement. As a young girl, she feels "rich" when she receives bits of chalk and stubby pencils her mother and father bring home from their janitoring job at a local school. She finds simple pleasures in her life, like being allowed to sleep in the front room on Saturday night and watch the busy street below. You will ache to go back in time and be Francie's best friend as she battles loneliness and rejection by her peers but learns to live a solitary life. But, like the tree, she is ready to burst into bloom and when she does it is beautiful to read about.
This book is a wonderful description of life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn and a strong statement on the hope offered to the immigrants who came to the United States. The story emphasizes quite clearly the value of reading and a good education, but most importantly the strength of family and the dreams that sustain people. As Francie learns, "there had to be the dark and muddy waters so that the sun could have something to background it flashing glory." Young teens and mature women alike will relish Francie's story and hold its message in their hearts forever.
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131 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
I am in total awe after reading this book. In the beginning I thought it was going to be a boring and long novel. But throughout my reading I became to grow more attached to the story. The main character Francie was an intriguing and delightful creation that anyone would want as their best friend, should she not be a fictional person. I enjoyed reading how the poor family made ends meet and continued surviving when it seemed they couldn't hang on much longer. It seems that you shouldn't find it entertaining to read of suffering, but the author writes it in such a ingenious way as to that you're really reading about the magnificence of life, living, and death. As the family encounters dilemma after dilemma you find yourself encased in the wonder of how they do it. Throughout all the sadness and suffering the Nolans are still kind and considerate, loving and caring, fair and just; overall good people! Don't get me wrong, this is not a sad story, although some parts are on the sadder side. This is a marvelous writing about why people live and how. It shows a young girl growing up and changing into a woman. I was so in tune with the story I found myself laughing, crying, cheering, and feeling scared! The Nolans are resourceful and caring people, although they do have their faults. You learn about them from birth to middle aged and curiously watch them change, grow, and develop their ways. You see where each person gets their character traits from and why they do certain things. The setting is early twentieth century Brooklyn, NY. The Nolans live in a neighborhood of old flats. Electricity has not yet been invented and the value of the dollar is way higher than the present. Its interesting reading about how their insurance was twenty-five cents and that four people could eat on ten cents a day! The author provides you with outstanding descriptions of looks, feelings, and mood as to that you feel you are really there. You feel as if you have known the characters forever and are close friends with all of them. This is because you learn more about them throughout the story as if you really were their friends, and they were alive and you got to know them better as time goes on. While you read this book, you will discover how lucky we are, and what some people went through to cope with the daily mandatory needs of humans. I am completely convinced anyone who reads this book will fall in love with the gentle rhythym of the flowing sentences. When I finished I didn't want it to end, the author could've kept writing until Francie died and you would've ever get bored. Yet all books have to end. With a touch of history, I am positive anyone who reads this will be more than satisfied. This novel definitely deserves more than five stars!
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 27, 2001
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
In the first page of this book, Betty Smith writes very gently and calmly of Francie Nolan, a pre-teenager just beginning to step out on the edge of adulthood. And Smith ties the book up neatly at the end as if she's giving a present to the reader ... which she is. This is one of the sweetest, most eloquently written books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
Francie Nolan lives in Brooklyn with her brother Neely, mom Katie and dad Johnny. It is in the early 1900s where the book is set. The family is poor ~~ living almost on the edge of starvation. Francie has taken to reading like a duck takes to water ... once she discovered the joy of reading, she becomes a big bookworm. She is also a keen observer of life around her ~~ her thoughts are often witty and funny as she observes the strange behavior of her mother's sisters and their lives, the neighbors, her brother Neely, her mother and father's relationships with one another. Till Francie grows up to be this amazing woman set on the path of her destiny.
Betty Smith takes you along for a wonderful story-filled walk in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. She introduces the smells of old Brooklyn, the noise, the joys and sorrows of being in a poverty-stricken family ~~ the hopes and dreams of the immigrants that left the old country because there was nothing there for them. The hopes and dreams of the parents for their children to have better lives than they did ... falling in love with one another ... the disappointments of being disappointed by life, the wonder of finding joy in anything new or rediscovering something old. Betty Smith has captured the nuances of life and shares a bit of her soul for us readers to find.
What I like most about this book is how much I can relate to Francie and her reading habits and her growing up years. She is full of insecurities and questions, loves to read and takes such joy in reading ... especially when she promised herself that she was going to read every book in the local library, starting from a to z. And Smith captures that longing perfectly, as if she has had the same dreams and desires when she was 11.
I can rave about this book forever, but it isn't as much fun as reading this book. This book deserves to be read by everyone who has such joy in reading. This book deserves to be given to young girls on the verge of adulthood and encouraged to be read ... discussed. The love of reading is what all of us here have in common, and reading about it just encourages you to read more!
I urge you to buy this book and read it. It's worth every minute and hour of your time. It's one of those rare treasures that won't leave you without leaving a small imprint on your heart. I can guarantee you will fall in love with Francie and her family ... they're just like every other family you know. Just different ... Francie is one character you love to love. Just like I love to read. Don't delay ... buy!
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn By Betty Smith
Betty Smith is well knows for her many works, but the one book that almost everyone knows about, that she wrote is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In this book she shows herself to be an author of great depth and knowledge into the human soul. All her words come strait from the heart to make a book that engulfs all who read it. This book gives great insight into life; it shows why many people strive to become someone better and how some people are able to craw up to a better station in live against tremendous odds as well as forces working against them. A tree Grows in Brooklyn touches every ones hearts. It is about a little girl, Mary Frances Nolan (also known as Francie), growing up in the poorer part of Brooklyn with a drunken, singing waiter for a father, yet this father somehow always make her feel so special and unique. She lives with her father, a severely realistic mother, and a brother who is always favored. She is treated poorly throughout school because she is so different and independent. Even at birth she was thought of as "different"; Francie was born with a caul which was supposed to indicate that the child was set apart to do great things in the world. Francie always kept to herself and was the silent studious type. In fast she entertained herself with books from the local library; she promised herself that one day read all the books in the library, she started this goal by reading a book-a-day. Her brother's birth, not one year after hers, doesn't help this division at all; she feels even more disconnected and different from the rest of the world at Neeley birth, fore he is the favored son and get all the attention that Francie lacked growing up. At a very young age Francie learned how important money is as well as the division is society caused by money and education. Because of this division and favoritism, Francie becomes the sole provider for the family after the death of her father. She goes to work straight after graduation from grade school and never gets to have the pleasure and luxury of a high school diploma, but that doesn't stop her from her dreams. Her dreams of moving up in the world, to a place were you don't have to worry about where your next meal comes from. True, this sounds like a ridicules dream considering that today this is a requirement from everyone, but at this point in time very few people, without wealth, were able to get a higher education or even be able to go to high school. Nothing can stop Francie from getting her dream. This wonderful book cuts right to the heart of life. It show the true American dream; the dream of higher education and a better live for everyone. If you don't read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you will be denying yourself a rich experience of the true American dream. A dream that has made this country what it is today.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have read many classic books, but "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is by far the best work of literature I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. As a sixteen year old young woman from suburban America, many may question how I can possibly relate to the unfortunate life led by Francie Nolan. However, this is the beauty of Betty Smith's masterpiece, for EVERY young woman is capable of relating to many of the scenes found in this timeless classic. These include Francie's sexual assault, the favoritism Francie's mother has for brother Neeley, and the close relationship Fancie has with her father, whose alcoholism ultimately leads to his untimely death.
Despite the hardships Francie is faced with, she perseveres, acquiring a job in order to help her family survive. Although her education must be put on hold for the time being, Francie remains hopeful that the day will come in which she, like her brother, Neeley, will be capable of going off to school.
Not only is the ongoing story of a young girl growing up in Brooklyn simply timeless, but the metaphor of the tree outside Francie's window that has grown through unfortunate circumstances is absolutely perfect. The tree had been cut down and was even the victim of a bonfire, but it continued to grow and blossom. Just like Francie, the tree beat the odds and rose from nothingness to beauty and strength.
Never have I read anything and cried at the end simply because it was over. As you read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", you become wrapped up in Francie's life until you feel as though she and you are one in the same. The fact that I have only read this book once astonishes me, and I can guarantee you that I will read it again this summer. The purchase of this book may set you [a few]...dollars, but the experience of reading "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is absolutely priceless.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
While many novels offer an escape through some fantastical storyline set in a faraway place, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the kind of novel that makes you realize the universality of common feelings, frustrations, and hopes--and the role that sorrow and sacrifice play in the development of character. One of my favorite scenes is that of the Charity Party, when Francie is torn between her desperate longing for the doll being offered to any "poor child named Mary" and her resentment towards the manner in which affluent individuals approach giving. The author allows Francie to be a child--she lies in order to receive the charity doll, knowing that on the stage in front of her neighborhood peers she is both pathetic for taking charity as well as envied for owning such a rich toy. However, despite giving in to her desire, Francie is also a spirit beyond her years. She walks home both clutching her doll and cursing the insensitive givers, cyring out that for once, people should give to the poor without having to say, "I am rich and you are poor." Another remarkable aspect of the book, further demonstrating it's stark realism, was the fact that Francie never places moral judgement on her father. If we contrast A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with Angela's Ashes, we see two opposing manners in which families respond to alcolohic fathers. Francie's strength, we may surmise, is most likely a product of her genuine belief that she led a happy childhood with two loving parents that had her best interests in mind. While she may later look back and realize her father's problems robbed her of some opportunity, her sense of security and love for her father would still remain intact, and judging from the role her father played in the household, Francie seemed to need a tender male role model to counter her mother's harsh pragmatism towards her children. We also see this in Francie's reaction to her ignorant writing teacher's claim that Francie's stories were "ugly," as Francie recognized that these tales (which were about her relationship with her father) were important and beautiful enough to be saved.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a book that provides deep insight as to how individuals can be stronger, wiser, and more grounded. Above all else, it is an essay on love, trust, and suffering as it relates to the character strength humans need to be survivors. It was after reading this book that I realized for the first time in my life that suffering, though difficult to ride through, really is one of the most positive influences an individual can experience.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
A friend of mine once said, "A classic is a book which has never finished saying what is has to." This book is definitely a classic, one that I will read every year I'm sure.
"Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York." If that opening line doesn't hook you in, keep reading. With each word, sentence, phrase...it just keeps getting better. Smith writes beautifully, her words magically making something out of the life of a child who could have been a nobody. This story is moving and beautiful-a must read for anyone who loves books and an inspirational story.
The story follows the life of little Francie Nolan, poor child of a penniless singer-waiter-drunkard Johnny, and hardworking-penny pincher-beautiful Katie. Francie is a smart child who loves to read. Her life is by turns happy, sad, melancholy and poignant. With parents determined to see her and her brother Neeley to do better in life than they did, she moves through school and into the working life of her teens. Her life is never easy, but one of her best characteristics is her ability to find beauty is the smallest things. One of my favorite examples of this is, upon a visit to the old, shabby library, she sees in a plain brown bowl "...nasturtiums! Red, yellow, gold, and ivory-white. A head pain caught her between the eyes at the taking in of such a wonderful sigh. It was something to be remembered all her life. (page, 21-chapter 2)."
I laughed, cried and cheered with this tiny child, desperate to make something of herself and find love. Smith gives the lives of these poor, desperate, sometimes even starving people a measure of pride and beauty that is unforgettable.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a novel to be read and enjoyed for many different reasons. As an initial matter, it paints a portrait of Brooklyn at the turn of the twentieth century. Many books contain descriptions, but this book contains something more. I could hear the chaos on the streets, including the noisy children, horses and vendors. I could smell and taste the coffee that Francie's mother left boiling on the stove at all hours of the day and night. It went beyond mere description--this novel involved all of my senses and made me truly feel what it was like to live in that time and place.
Beyond the amazing imagery is a somewhat simple story of a family in crisis. Johnny, the father, drinks too much and can't hold a job but is the light and life of the family. Katie, the mother, loves her family ferociously, but has been imbittered by the strain that Johnny and their perpetual state of poverty places upon her. The story truly belongs to Francie and Neely, the two children, who survive by staying together, inventing stories and games for each other, and finding joy in their meager surroundings.
The most noteworthy aspect of the novel, to me, was its utter anger. I have heard Steinbeck's Travels with Charley described as "an angry book". A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was much angrier. Francie's childlike but astute observations concerning how society ignores the needs and struggles of the working poor explode with anger. Francie's shining moment is when she shames the doctor who comments in front of her that all poor people are dirty, without thinking that she and her brother can understand him. Sissy's shining moment is when she shames Francie's teacher who ignores poor children to the point that she fails to release them to use the bathroom, causing them to have humiliating accidents. Even Francie's and Neely's victories contain an undercurrent of anger. They catch the leftover Christmas tree, warming the heart of the peddler who threw it. But because he is poor, he cannot openly be happy for them, and has to throw curses after them as they parade home with their prize.
This book contains magic and heartbreak, heroics and cowardice, beauty and hideousness. It describes what it was like to be a poor child in Brooklyn in 1908. Above all, it reminds us that poverty and human behavior is universal. Shamefully, children and adults are still going through what Francie and her family went through 100 years ago.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn By Betty Smith
Betty Smith isn't well known for her many works, but the one book that almost everyone has heard about, is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In this novel she shows herself to be an author of great depth and knowledge; she gives us a peek into the complex human soul. All her words come straight from the heart to make a story that engulfs all who read it. This book gives great insight into life; it shows why many people strive to become someone better and how some people are able to move up to a better station in life even though there are tremendous odds and forces working against them. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn touches everyone's' hearts. It is about a little girl, Mary Frances Nolan (also known as Francie), growing up in the poorer part of Brooklyn with a drunken, singing waiter for a father. This father somehow always makes her feel so special and "normal". She lives with her a severely realistic mother, father, and a brother who is favorite child. She is treated poorly throughout school because she is so different and independent. Even at birth she was thought of as "different" just because she was born with a caul which was supposed to indicate that the child was set apart to do great things in the world. Francie always kept to herself and was the silent studious type, which deepened the division between herself and the other of the children. In fast Francie entertained herself with books from the local library; she promised herself, that one day she would read all the books in the library. Her brother's birth, not one year after hers, deepens the division even more. She feels even more disconnected from the rest of the world at Neeley's (her brother) birth, fore he is the favored son and gets all the attention that Francie lacked. At a very young age Francie learned how important money is as well as the division in society caused by money as well as education. Because of this division and Neeley's favoritism, Francie becomes the sole provider for the family after the her father's death. She goes to work straight after graduation from grade school and never gets to have the pleasure and luxury of a high school diploma, but that doesn't stop her from her dreams. Her dreams of moving up in the world, to a place were you don't have to worry about where your next meal comes from; a place where money doesn't necessarily make you rich. True, this sounds like a ridicules dream considering that today a high school diploma is mandatory for everyone. At this point in time; however, very few people, without wealth, were able to get a higher education or even be able to go to high school. Yet nothing can stop Francie from completing her dream. This wonderful book cuts right to the heart of life. It show the true American dream; the dream of higher education and a better and equal way of life for everyone. The novel tell this dream through one special girl who realizes that she can be and do better. If you don't read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you will be denying yourself a rich experience of the true American dream. A dream that has made this country what it is today.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2005
This book is about a girl named Francie. She lives in Brooklyn with her mom, Katie, dad, Johnny, and brother, Neeley.

Francie loves to read and has vowed to read one book everyday for the rest of her life, as well as a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare every night. Her parents are very young and her dad is drunk a lot. Her dad is out of work a lot, and goes back and forth between jobs. Her mom works very hard to try to support her family. Katie starts Franice and her brother Neeley in school at the same time, even though Neeley is a year younger, with the hopes that they will do a better job fending of the bigger kids together. Francie doesn't last very long in the school though. The teacher is mean towards the poorer children, and Francie is one of them. While taking a walk one day, she sees another school, one that looks much nicer and more fun. She gets her dad to write a letter to the principal of her school, saying that she is going to live with some relatives, and go to another school. He writes that Neeley will continue to go to this same school. She loves this new school and with lots of encouragement from her teachers, has found that she loves to write.

I would definitely recommend this book. The book has lots of detail and the author does a good job putting into words kind of how it is like to be poor with a father who is drunk a lot the time. There are a lot of good adjectives and I felt like I was actually there.

This is a contemporary fiction book and I give it 5 stars.

Morgan Budihas
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