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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | [Betty Smith]

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A moving coming-of-age story set in the 1900s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the lives of 11-year-old Francie Nolan, her younger brother Neely, and their parents, Irish immigrants who have settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Johnny Nolan is as loving and fanciful as they come, but he is also often drunk and out of work, unable to find his place in the land of opportunity.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why You Should Download This Audiobook: Betty Smith's immensely moving novel is essentially a paean to the human spirit—among most uplifting works we can think of. It's one of those stories you delight in giving to a good friend or family member who might be facing difficulty, certain that it could change the way they perceive life or give them strength to overcome a problem. It's also worth mentioning that this novel is a refreshing, plainspoken American work, a welcome change of pace if you've been lately persuing dense or complex works of literature.

Publisher's Summary

A moving coming-of-age story set in the 1900s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the lives of 11-year-old Francie Nolan, her younger brother Neely, and their parents, Irish immigrants who have settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Johnny Nolan is as loving and fanciful as they come, but he is also often drunk and out of work, unable to find his place in the land of opportunity. His wife Katie scrubs floors to put food on the table and clothes on her children's backs, instilling in them the values of being practical and planning ahead.

When Johnny dies, leaving Katie pregnant, Francie, smart, pensive and hoping for something better, cannot believe that life can carry on as before. But with her own determination, and that of her mother behind her, Francie is able to move toward the future of her dreams, completing her education and heading off to college, always carrying the beloved Brooklyn of her childhood in her heart.

©1947 Betty Smith; (P)2001 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"There's a reason this tale remains beloved after almost 50 years, and it stands with memoirs like Angela's Ashes for its happy-ending triumph over a bad childhood." (AudioFile)
"A profoundly moving novel, and an honest and a true one. It cuts right to the heart of life." (The New York Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.5 (1555 )
5 star
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4.5 (942 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Jessica Gottlieb 03-18-06

    Jessica Gottlieb

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A book everyone should read"

    This is a must read for anyone who considers themselves well read. The book is beyond fabulous and although it takes place in the early 1900's there's nothing about the story that is dated. It is about love and loving, growth, famlies, immigration, learning and passion.

    You will find yourself in every character as well as your mother, father, aunts and uncles. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn should be required reading.

    The only caution is the prologue. It's a self indulgent, self congratulatory piece of goo that adds nothing to the story and may put you off of what is a spectacular piece of literature.

    22 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RueRue 10-23-14
    RueRue 10-23-14

    RueRue

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    "Timeless !"

    Although this book was written and published in the late 1940's, it's story of life in Brooklyn, circa 1912 - 1918, is timeless and very moving. Wonderful narration makes the characters come alive. So glad I read this classic !

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 11-04-12
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 11-04-12 Member Since 2008

    Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy

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    "Difficult to review!"

    I was fully prepared to love this book, as I have recently begun doing my own family tree that is very much Brooklyn-oriented and many of my relatives lived during the time period that this book describes. I had a difficult time adjusting to the narrator and was not fond of her accents at first. In addition, she spoke extremely fast in the first parts of the book--I even contemplated ways of slowing the narration down. Either Kate Burton eventually slowed down as she got into to the story, or I just became accustomed to her speed.

    I found the story a bit slow moving, and I felt the author spent a bit too much time on Francie's earliest years. In the second part of the audiobook, I got much more involved in the story and actually looked forward to resuming it. At the point that I was really enjoying this story, the book seemed to abruptly end.

    Overall, it was a worthy read for me, but for me, it did not live up to the unanimous rave reviews it has gotten.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Word Nerd United States 05-29-12
    Word Nerd United States 05-29-12 Listener Since 2006
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    "Pick the other one"

    I'm surprised by the reviews. Perhaps it's because I have already read this book in paperback. It's one of my favorite classics. Twenty years ago, I gave this book a five star rating. Having just listened to it with refreshed ears and a clear mind, I did pick up on a number of writing flaws, which I'm willing to forgive with just a one-star penalty.

    First, let me critique the production of this audio. It was pretty bad. Although Kate Burton can read aloud just fine, without snacking her lips, swallowing loudly, or failing to block out background noise, she did fail to "perform." Contrary to what some reviewers are saying, her idea of a Brooklyn accent is not only embarrassing, but it's downright insulting to Brooklynites. She made everyone sound like the Three Stooges. It would be comical if it wasn't so annoying. There were also many parts of the book where the character was singing. Instead of singing the lyrics, she read them. Really, if you are going to "perform" a narration, at least try to sing when the characters sing. Reading Silent Night and Auld Lang Syne in a monotone, non-inflected voice ruins the experience.

    The narrator was not the only problem. This is why I am critiquing the production, not just the narrator. The worst part of the production was this crazy jazz music that suddenly blares at you in the middle of a section. The loud music is followed by an agonizingly long pause and then a score of Schroder piano music. Horribly distracting. I wanted to throw my MP3 player across the room. The long silent pause between bursts of music was a waste of time. To be honest, I absolutely hate when there's music in my Audibles. Don't inflict your music on me. I have my own reading mood. I don't want to start out each chapter annoyed. (Besides, reading is a quiet, peaceful activity. Why would you blare music at someone?)

    As for the writing flaws, nothing I say here is going to make a difference, nor should it discourage anyone from purchasing the book. I'm merely noting it in case someone is thinking of writing a similar memoir, to prevent what is considered poor writing in modern standards. The book was poorly organized. Smith kept shifting up and down her timeline to the point that it was difficult to tell what order events occurred. Points of view also kept shifting. The story began in Francie's POV and then suddenly there's a long narrative of Katie, a bit of Johnny, a quick thought from Nealy, and the complete biography of Sissy. There was even one scene where we got a glimpse inside the heads of all the neighbors. Too much. Give us one or two POVs so we can keep up.

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is still one of my favorites. It's a beautifully honest depiction of a time gone by and should be a part of every book lover's library. I would suggest you read the book first, and if you still want the audio, try the other narrator.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    karen 10-29-11
    karen 10-29-11
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    "A classic, to be treasured and enjoyed"

    It's probably not possible for any version of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" to be bad, but listening to it, instead of reading it, brought new insights. Special kudos to the narrator -- because of her narration, I saw things in the book I'd never thought of when just reading it.

    And read it, I have, maybe five or six times. Some of my favorites scenes in all literature are here -- especially the one where Francie, every morning, pours her precious coffee down the drain. Although it's the most expensive treat she'll have all day, she pours it out -- because having the ability to waste something makes her feel, for just a moment, like she's rich. (Lots to think about, there.)

    But in reading the book, for me -- a Californian -- what I hadn't really considered was what a Brooklynite Francie was, as was Katie, her mother. Sounds totally stupid, I know, but in reading it, I never imagined the accents. If anything, I'd have imagined an Irish accent, I guess, not pure Brooklynese. It gave a whole new dimension to the story. Katie was sometimes harsh, especially to Francie -- but hearing it with the accent make it more poignant yet.

    So given this special insight that the narrator brought, why did I give the narrator only four stars? One reason: from time to time there's a song involved in the story -- sometimes Johnny sings, sometimes other members of the family. But every time one of the songs came up, the narrator turned into a minor Maria Callas, rendering the song as though it were pure opera. For someone who managed the down-home Brooklyn speaking accents so well, why would she think that when they sang, they'd sound like opera stars? The worst was a scene where Johnny was coming home from a bar, drunk, late at night, and was singing "Molly Malone" -- would he really do it in an accent-free king's english, vibratto and all? I don't think so.

    Wonderful that the narrator is also a trained singer. Best wishes for her success in that field. But when a narrator is reading a story about poor, struggling, uneducated, Irish immigrants, it would be smarter to keep their singing in the same voice as that with which they spoke. To do otherwise was jarring -- it reminded me I was listening to an audiobook, not present myself at the scene, which was how I felt for most of the rest of the book.

    In spite of that, this is a great audiobook. Not to be missed.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ed Saint Augustine, FL, United States 08-05-11
    Ed Saint Augustine, FL, United States 08-05-11 Member Since 2015

    Retired former magazine editor who is working harder than ever as Mr. Dad to his 12-year-old daughter.

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    "Chick book that a guy enjoyed"

    I think I probably would have given this book five stars if I were a chick. It was an enjoyable listen with characters that came to life with the good narration. If I had one criticism is that it leaves you hanging as Francie heads off to college. I almost wanted the story to be a retrospective with Francie opening up her time capsule 50 years later and giving a brief synopsis of what had happened with the rest of her life. Great characters, great dialogue and a totally believable storyline. Highly recommended.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emily Portland, OR, United States 12-03-14
    Emily Portland, OR, United States 12-03-14 Member Since 2014

    Estate planning lawyer and mom to two boys. My older son liked audiobooks as an infant, and I've listened to a lot since then.

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    "Wonderful audio of a children's classic"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, this was a great audio for children and adults. I was especially glad my 12 year old and I listened together. I have never seen him so often pause an audio to discuss various aspects -- the clothes, the ethnic stereotypes, what various words meant, etc. Those discussions were probably as educational as anything. He's reading this book for school, but I know listening to the audio while he has the book in front of him has made it into a pleasure for him.


    Which character – as performed by Kate Burton – was your favorite?

    Probably Francie, but Kate Burton is a wonderful all--around narrator.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I think it is too intense and long, but certainly it is compelling to listen as long as you can. We're actually on our second listen, which is unusual to imagine for such a long book.


    Any additional comments?

    Ordinarily I like some music as a part of an audio, but somehow the music played between chapters here is a little jarring. My son calls it Random Music Moment.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer minneapolis, MN, United States 08-04-13
    Jennifer minneapolis, MN, United States 08-04-13 Member Since 2011

    audio book junkie

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Simply Beautiful!"

    I'm in love with this book. I had heard the title in countless pop-culture references and amongst peers throughout my life and when I came across it on Audible I decided to give it a try. The detail in this book is stunning, I swear Betty Smith writes for 10 minutes about the process of buying a pickle in the early nineteen hundreds and it's totally engrossing - how does she do that?! "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is really a slice of life in a time of American that has long since past. It is simply magical to be transported to that time and place. The story is simple, "A Tree..." doesn't have extreme twists and turns, it is a more gentle curving story of the ins and outs of life, family and poverty. Great read, I recommend it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jennifer BROOKLYN, NY, United States 03-01-13
    jennifer BROOKLYN, NY, United States 03-01-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Classic"

    Easy to enjoy, with timeless characters and a great narrator. Never boring, tho never really enthralling. A great listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathi 07-08-12
    Kathi 07-08-12 Member Since 2010

    Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.

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    "Wonderful book--would love a different narrator"
    Would you try another book from Betty Smith and/or Kate Burton?

    I love this book--I have read it many times since I was young. The characters have a timeless appeal, despite the story taking place in the turn of century New York.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

    Most of the main characters are memorable. Having read the book numerous times, I feel as though I know each one of them deeply. Of course Francie is the main character-but her brother, parents and Aunt Cissie have a depth to them that leaves them all endearing to the reader.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    I have never listened to a book (and I've listened to many) that the narrator so detracted from the reading. I felt that her beginning editorial about how much the book meant to her was understandable (I feel a similar way)--but entirely inappropriate for the reader.

    I suppose it is similar to the sort of prologue that may get written as an introduction to books that introduces the reader to what is to come. But this is unusual for a book on tape. Something about enduring her personal opinions about the book (even though, oddly, they so agreed with my own) was extremely off-putting. One wants to just begin the read and interact with it in one's own way. It felt as though she was "robbing" the listener of being able to form their own judgements. I know she meant well, but I wish Audible would bring out a version without that. If her commentary were just moved to the end, instead of the beginning--it would not be so bad. After feeling so perturbed that she had imposed her views of the story up front (instead of letting one just form one's own) I was not predisposed to enjoy the rest of her reading. Audible could "fix" the problem by jut moving it to the end, instead of the beginning.


    Do you think A Tree Grows in Brooklyn needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    I know there was one, I read it when I was young. But it did not hold a candle to ATGIB. Betty Smith wrote such a "perfect" book in the first place, it was just a hard act to follow.


    Any additional comments?

    I wish everyone would read it--and form their own opinions about it. I always have found it to be a work that has such well-drawn characters, that it invites people to mentally and emotionally interact with them, really connect.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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