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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Written by: Betty Smith
Narrated by: Kate Burton
Length: 14 hrs and 55 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (33 ratings)

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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 Ratings

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Story

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Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A New Favourite

Francie Nolan is one of those characters that change your life. It's so easy to find yourself in her personality and her thoughts. Stories about growing up never grow old- and this one is real and beautiful.

Excellent performance.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Wild Wise Woman
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 2011-09-04

Book: flawless. SKIP THE RECORDED INTRO!!

I won't waste time talking about the worth of this classic story. In my 50+ years on this earth I somehow never read it, dismissing it as "young adult fiction", and I am sorry and shamed now, because it is not that at all. It is one of the finest books I've ever listened to.

HOWEVER, because it was new to me, I was very sorry to hear the introduction (not skippable, because it is not separated from the first chapter) which GAVE AWAY all the key parts of the story at the end of its schmoozy praise of the novel. Really, really disappointed to have a spoiler like that for such a great book - it should have been featured AFTER the story. The narrator is quite good and I love her way with accents, but she should learn that "suite" is pronounced "sweet" and not "suit". Also disturbing is the weird incidental jazz music, not at all indicative of 1911 when the story begins, which breaks startlingly, alarmingly between chapters. It's out of character for the story and jarring to the ear.

196 of 202 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nancy
  • Halethorpe, MD, USA
  • 2005-09-06

Leaves you wondering what happened next -

Many of our own lives can relate with the author as she tells a story of a life so similar to the lives we live in today's world ~ It had romance, excitement, childhood fantasies, family tolerance, sibling protection and teasing, fears of change, tears of joy and sadness. I wish it never ended.

44 of 49 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • C. McCarley
  • 2007-02-01

Great Listen

This was one of my favorite books I've ever purchased from Audible. The narration doesn't get better than this in audiobooks, and the story is nothing short of classic and a truly wonderful coming of age story. Excellent book I highly recommend it for anyone at any age.

32 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jessica Gottlieb
  • 2006-03-18

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.

38 of 43 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • EmilyK
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 2014-12-03

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.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ella
  • toronto,, Ontario, Canada
  • 2010-10-09

A True Classic

Centered around the protagonist Mary Frances Nolan who is 11 years old at the onset of the novel, ATGIB tell the story of a poor family, struggling in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Mother Katie is a proud, hard-working, practical, woman who tries to make ends meet by working as a cleaning woman, while her husband Johnny escapes reality through alcohol. It depicts the hard road traveled by their two children Francie and Neeley, her younger brother, as they go to school and work while learning about life and how to survive its cruelty. It also depicts the strong love of family. How in difficult circumstances they stick together and even though their situation whittles away at their endurance, they still manage to stick together as their love, devotion and loyalty to one another triumph. Katie’s sisters Evy and Sissy are strong women who also struggle through life’s challenges, but never back away as they persevere and face adversity head on. ATGIB is story telling on a whole new level. Moving and inspirational, it reaches in to your heart and pulls you into its time, place and circumstance. A true classic.
Kate Burton did a fine job with the narration.

25 of 29 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • FanB14
  • 2013-07-26

Required Reading

Francie Nolan is coming of age at the turn of the century in the slums of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It's a story of perseverance, heartbreak, cruelty, and optimism. Am just reading this as an adult and can't believe it wasn't required in my high school. Fantastically written account of a family struggling to beat the odds for a better life. If you've ever read, "Angela's Ashes" then this is a tamer U.S. version beautifully capturing the struggle for the American dream.

21 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Deborah
  • North Las Vegas, NV, USA
  • 2009-05-20

Endearing

As fresh today as when it was written. Not a plot-driven story, but a rich, rewarding listen about life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, as well as a warm and endearing coming-of-age story of young Francie. Could not be more delightful. Couldn't stop listening! Try it, you'll like it.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Word Nerd
  • 2012-05-29

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.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Mark
  • Waltham, MA, United States
  • 2018-04-30

Flawed, dated but still moving classic

Having never read this American classic, I finally dove in, expecting something as beloved as To Kill A Mockingbird (one of my favorites). At the start, I was disappointed. This story is a third person coming-of-age narrative which was to a large part told from the point of view of young Francie, but there was much in this novel that was not from Francie's perspective. There was a lot of background on many characters and beliefs of the times that Francie would not have known. The novel moved at a slow pace, and bounced around in a way that prevented a good flow. A third of the way into this, I almost stopped. But I didn't. In spite of an uneven plot, the book felt totally authentic. This novel did transport me to Brooklyn in the early 20th century in a way that historic novels written today rarely do. Francie lives with her younger brother, her hard-working mother, and her unreliable but loving father. Money is always tight. Francie's passion is writing. At some point in the second half of this novel, I found myself really enjoying this story, in spite of many slow moments. As Francie gets to be an older teenager, it becomes more about her. There is clearly a lot of autobiographical material woven into this novel, and the books becomes more moving as Francie ages. There were many great moments in this novel, and it always felt authentic. This was a bumpy journey for me, but one I am glad I took.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful