A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • by Betty Smith
  • Narrated by Kate Burton
  • 14 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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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.

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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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Music drove me crazy

The story is wonderful, the narrator was perfect the intermittent, period-inappropriate music was enough to drive me batty throughout. I made it through but PLEASE remove the music!!!
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- Lauren

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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- Cynthia

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-12-2005
  • Publisher: HarperAudio