A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 15, 2011
I was introduced to the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was 11. I was quite a prodigious reader for my age, but I doubt that I'd have stuck with it if I'd actually been reading it. However, my mom purchased the audiobook, narrated by Anna Fields, and we listened to it in the car. It's best taken in large doses in order to notice the understated humor and pre-referencing, but the author includes just enough condensed summary to keep her inconsistent readers up-to-date.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn needs a patient and sensitive reader. It begins in 1902 and follows Mary Frances Nolan, or Francie, through the slums of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The book is narrated in the third person, but we get frequent peeks into the minds of Francie's parents, her brother Neeley, and those they encounter.

It could be described as a coming-of-age story, but that phrase is overused. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn doesn't just illustrate Francie's coming-of-age, but also her mother's childhood, her childhood, her brother's birth, her first kiss, and her father's death. Betty Smith tells of Francie's world with sincerity, clarity, and objectivity, without any wavering at her protagonist's tears or broken dreams.

In one of the most poignant and subtle metaphors I've seen, the author suggests a parallel between Francie and the irrepressible tree that sprouts up in all Brooklyn tenements: The Tree of Heaven. Without saying, “Francie was like a tree: small, delicate, but unbreakable,” Smith opens the book with a description of the Tree of Heaven, slipping in images of the tree's growth over the years.

Each time the Nolans move to a new home, the tree is included in meticulous (but never tedious) description. In one tenement, the tree grows up and overshadows the Nolans' balcony, providing book-devouring Francie with a private, shady retreat in which to read, savor precious peppermint candy, and spin tales of the people passing below. She often watches from her balustrade as older neighbor girls prepare for dates, taking delight in watching their intimate rituals.

The story closes as Francie, who is preparing for her own date, looks out the window and sees her young neighbor seated on a balcony with a book in her lap and a bag of candy by her side, watching Francie in the dim light.

Although A Tree Grows in Brooklyn contains some material unsuitable for younger readers, the unflinchingly honest narrative and Francie's reaction to the events subdue the more mature aspects of the book. I'd recommend it for ages 12 and up, although the audiobook will hook younger readers who are ready for the content.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

wish_u_were_here This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm
thanks everyone :)
DifferentTeen said...
Sept. 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm
Oh wow. When I saw this on the home page, I just had to click on it. I read this book last year for a book project, people had told me I wouldn't like it, that it was old fashioned. And honestly the only reason I picked it was because it was about Brooklyn, and I was born in Staten Island. But it was so much more than that to me. I could relate to this book in so many fantastic ways, especially in the morals my mother has taught me.   My favorite parts of the book were when Francie ... (more »)
AshleyLove:) said...
Jun. 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm
I loved this one because i can relate to it good job:)
KatsK This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm
I read it recently, and I really liked it. I'm glad to see that you did, as well.
crushed_veneer said...
Jun. 1, 2012 at 7:00 am
So funny because I'm taking a test on this book next period... I agree with what you say about best taken in large doses! really good article!
Site Feedback