WHM book recommendation: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith


An Armed Services Edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943).

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Catalyst recommends “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn,” a 1943 novel by American author Betty Smith. The novel’s protagonist is Francie Nolan, the daughter of two first-generation Americans living in poverty in Brooklyn, New York. The plot follows Francie as she blossoms from being a carefree child to learning how to balance her education and supporting her family as a teenager. 

The novel is heavily based on Smith’s own childhood experiences growing up in Brooklyn in the 1910s. Many of the occurrences told via Francie’s perspective are deeply personal to the author, which translates clearly to the reader through the sheer amount of detail used to describe each character, setting, and object. The majority of the story is told through the thoughts of both Francie and her mother, Katie, who constantly worries for her children and hopes for a better life for them in the future. 

Although it takes place over a century ago, many of the novel’s themes are still relevant today, especially to young women living here in the United States. It addresses the pressures of first and second-generation Americans to thrive and achieve the ideal “American Dream.” “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” highlights issues like the struggles of a young woman in the workforce, sexual assault, losing a loved one, and breaking through gender roles. It also includes more lighthearted events that are common in the life of a teenage girl, such as first love, moving on from heartbreak, and getting into college. 

Smith addresses these themes with grace, making the reader truly understand how each character feels while tackling each one. While there are many different stories told and characters featured throughout the book, none of them feel rushed or out-of-place. The development of each main character is truly excellent, as none of them are nearly the same at the end of the novel as they are at the beginning. 

“A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” is an astonishing novel that leaves the reader feeling inspired and optimistic for the future. While it is an excellent read at any time of the year, it is especially relevant to Women’s History Month occurring right now in March.