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Editorial 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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4.6 out of 5.0
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Performance

  • 4.7 out of 5.0
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Story

  • 4.7 out of 5.0
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  • Overall

Memories

I wish I had read this book years ago, I was a child in the 40's and poor, I can't believe the memories this book dug up for me. I think everyone in the world would appreciate and relate in some way to this book it is brilliant. I remember the survival mode we had to go into just for food. The part about the spot on her arm from dirt this happened to me, I cried at that part. If you have half a heart for the people that are not as well off as you are read this book and feel what it was or is like to be there. The Pride you have to dig up on a daily basis is phenomenal. Well written and put forth. Thank you.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kathy
  • Titusville, FL, United States
  • 12-15-10

Loved It Very Much

At first the accent of Francie put me off. As I listened and listened I learned to love her all over again. I read this book many times as a young girl and certain things that stood out in my memory when reading did not do so as a listener. I really enjoyed it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Listen!

I truly enjoy catching up on the classics I missed through Audible. I never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and knew nothing about the story. I enjoyed every minute of this book from start to finish. It is an engaging, slice-of-life story that is well-written and well-narrated. I highly recommend it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jill
  • Franklin, CT, United States
  • 12-01-10

I still love this book!

What a treat it was to visit this book again, after so many years. I remember reading this as a young person, and I recall such memorable characters as Sissy and Johnny with fondness. I love how the book is written in plain English, which is why it has stood the test of time, and even young readers can appreciate it. Kate Burton did a nice job narrating, and putting in a bit of New York accent into the voices. The introduction was a bit long, but it just showed why it is remarkable that we have passed the 60th anniversary of the book's writing.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Story & THE BEST Narration

I'm only 1/2 way through, but am enjoying Kate Burton's narration SO MUCH, that I must make my opinion available for listeners considering it. I've listened to MANY recorded book over the last 30 years and this narration is right at the top. Burto brings just a slight Brooklyn twang to her characters. As a male, most any book written by a woman is not for me. Her characters are so good however that I'm sure I'll hate to have it end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • G.
  • boulder creek, ca
  • 11-12-10

How did I miss this one?!

(Assuming you've read the publisher's summary) It's hard to review a book as good as TREE, I'm going to keep it short. The era, early 1900s in Brooklyn is lovingly and smartly rendered. I'm thinking that Frank McCourt was a Betty Smith fan, as there are many reminiscent moments from his book ANGELA'S ASHES. However, Smith is a bit more gentle as she leads you through the poor Irish tenements. The writing is very straightforward, as are the characters and place. With that, it's not a simplistic novel in any way. Another reviewer said that any well read person shouldn't miss this one, and I completely agree. Terrific narration as well.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • jc
  • 09-18-10

Great narrator

Even after listening to over a thousand audiobooks, a mediocre narrator can still wreck my day. But I was delighted with Kate Burton's interpretation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which delivered on all counts: excellent pronunciation, believable accents, and sensitive characterization. I must warn you, however, that her style is nuanced and understated rather than theatrical and in-your-face, so if you are a big fan of Scott Brick, you may be disappointed.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 06-19-16

The world was hers for the reading . . .

I was 11 the first time I read Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1943), the same age as main character Francie Nolan was when I first met her as she sat on her fire escape, eating carefully chosen mint wafers and reading a book on a Saturday afternoon that was all hers. My mother bought the book for 5 cents at a Methodist Church Rummage Sale, and the original price on the paperback was just 25 cents.

Francie Nolan's 1912 Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was a wonder of intriguing and sometimes scary neighbors; pickup ball games; bullies and mean girls; small stores and itinerant salesmen; saloons, green grocers and bakers; and schools, Catholic Churches and libraries, and even the Democratic Party political machine that was Tammany Hall. A century ago, there wasn't the safety net of social security or unemployment insurance, much less universal healthcare. People scrabbled to get enough for them and their families to eat and to live, and sometimes it didn't work. Well loved fathers died brutal deaths in the gutter.

Smith evokes the time and place so vibrantly I could see her father Johnny Nolan's stiff paper collar and dickey, and brother Neeley Nolan's spats. Francie's Aunt Sissy was something special - I could imagine her corsets and petticoats and high heeled shoes. I'd always imagined her played by Mae West (1893-1980), but it turned out that in the 1945 Elia Kazan movie, Joan Blondell (1906-1973) was the beloved aunt with the heart of gold who loved too many men with abandon.

Listening to it now, I realize it had a profound effect on my life and my children's lives. Francie Nolan's grandmother, Mary Rommely, an illiterate Irish immigrant, believed in education. She convinced her daughter, Katie, that she needed to read to her children every night - real books, not children's books, and even after they could read for themselves. I remember promising myself that if I ever had children, I would do the same. I did. We read J.R.R. Tollkein's "The Hobbit" (1937) and the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (1954-1955). All of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books (1997-2007). John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces" (1980), although slightly edited, since there are some things in that book a mom isn't going to read out loud to her grade school aged kids. And there were so many more . . .

As wonderful as the book is, a small part of it doesn't travel well in the 21st century. There are some casual racial slurs and stereotypes that modern writers wouldn't use, and those might be jarring. It isa book of its time, I suppose, just as Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" (1885) is.

The performance is by Kate Burton, a prolific and talented actress. I found myself actually liking Burton's slight Brooklyn accent - it was enough to let you know you were in New York, but not so much it was a parody.

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8 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Terrific Characters and well written story

This was a bestseller when it came out originally. I stumbled upon it and since it sounded like a softer version of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, I decided to give it a try. The first few minutes were great! Then it settles into a steady flow, finished strongly but then ended abruptly. I wanted to know what happened next. Nontheless, it was an enjoyable book that gives the listener a glimpse into American life Pre-WWI. Plus, it saved Bugs Bunny's life in a Hare Grows in Manhattan ;-).

3 of 5 people found this review helpful