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Extended Audio Sample A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Audiobook, by Betty Smith Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (155,563 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Betty Smith Narrator: Kate Burton Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: July 2005 ISBN: 9780060856083
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"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is a 1940s coming-of-age novel that is widely regarded as a classic in American literature. The novel has long been popular with audiences who could readily identify with the primary character, Francie Nolan, who grew up in impoverished Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York during the early 20th century.

Francie's dream was to escape from the poverty in which she grew up. Her grandmother, an immigrant who spoke little English, stressed the importance of reading and writing in working her way out of poverty and achieving success.

Naïve and idealistic, Francie began with a goal: to read every book in the library that was in walking distance from the sum district tenement where she lived. The novel follows her struggles and triumphs. Those who love the book readily identify with her.

An understanding of the immigrant experience and the appeal of the American dream have made this a best-selling book for generations, both then and now. Contemporary audiences continue to draw inspiration from this young working-class girl who sets her foot firmly on a path and refuses to give in to poverty, hardship and temptation to simply give up.

Betty Smith was an American novelist and playwright. Born in 1896, she became a popular novelist of the mid-20th century. Her work remains very relevant and popular today. The events in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" are largely autobiographical. Born Elizabeth Wehner, she was the daughter of immigrants from Austria. She loved school but had to leave before entering high school because of the death of her father. She dedicated her life to reading and was eventually able to go to the University of Michigan after marrying, moving to Michigan where her husband attended law school and starting a family. She later divorced, moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and remarried. She died in 1972 from complications of pneumonia.

During her lifetime, Smith wrote at least 70 one-act plays. Her other novels include "Tomorrow Will Be Better," "Maggie Now" and "Joy in the Morning."

A moving coming-of-age story set in the 1900’s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the lives of eleven-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 childrens’ 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 oft to college, always carrying the beloved Brooklyn of her childhood in her heart.

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Quotes & Awards

  • A profoundly moving novel, and an honest and true one. It cuts right to the heart of life…If you miss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you will deny yourself a rich experience.”

    New York Times

  • “One of the most dearly beloved and one of the finest books of our day.”

    Orville Prescott

  • “One of the books of the Century.”

    New York Public Library

  • “There’s a reason this tale remains beloved after almost fifty years, and it stands with memoirs like Angela’s Ashes for its happy-ending triumph over a bad childhood.”

    AudioFile

  • An Audie Award Finalist
  • A BuzzFeed Books Pick for Life Changing Books to Read with Your Mom
  • Audio Publisher’s Association “Audie” Award

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sue Cebelinski | 2/17/2014

    " I have my mother's copy of this book and have read it at various points in my life, learning something new at each reading. My all time favorite book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cindy Mast | 2/6/2014

    " One of my my favorites. It is about simpler, harder times. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jinnie | 2/4/2014

    " 5 stars is not enough. This is a 10 star book: lyrical, poignant, plain, funny, moving. Brilliantly written, beautiful story. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deepesh Banerji | 1/27/2014

    " Really enjoyed it. A story about many themes, but of underlying perseverance. Very interesting coming of age story, of the changing times, in Brooklyn NY, in the beginning of the century. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Denelle Swaim | 1/25/2014

    " Can't believe I lived this long without reading this book. Nothing monumental but reminds me why I fell in love with reading to begin with--books are filled with doorways to whole new worlds. This one was a great journey. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Claudia | 1/21/2014

    " I vaguely remember being assigned this book in junior high but am also pretty sure I tapped into Cliffsnotes a bit more than I should have. Well this book stayed in my mind and I finally felt inspired to read it for real. Now I'm sure the fact that my parents and my sister and I were born in Brooklyn played a huge part of my tremendous enjoyment of this book, but I feel like it is written with a sweet nostalgic tone that anyone would appreciate. Well to be honest, that same reason why I like it is the reason why I don't think children can appreciate it. You need to have experienced the journey of childhood to adulthood, the realization that your parents are not flawless untouchable beings but just people trying to figure it all out, and most importantly, what true joy and true disappointment feel like. It is only then that you can relate to Francie's story and truly appreciate it as the honest and inspiring piece of literature that it is. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Aileen Martin lengel | 1/20/2014

    " wonderful surprising read! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bev Moss | 1/20/2014

    " My favorite book in high school. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carolyn | 1/20/2014

    " Recommended by a member of Lycurgus Literary Society. A classic that should be considered by book clubs if they have not already read it. Questions about why Katie loved the boy more, why Francie was so insightful at an early age, what determines what are "good" times, and can a drunk be a good father are just a few of the topics that can be discussed. The time setting is nearly 100 years ago, and the social norms were very different, and yet maybe not so much. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kristel | 1/20/2014

    " Very well written. I felt & smelled & heard everything written quite acutely. Full of a nostalgic innocence that I thoroughly enjoyed "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Seth | 1/12/2014

    " As advertised, a wonderful coming-of-age tale. It reminded me of my mother's stories of her childhood, even though she was from The Bronx and was a generation younger than this book's Francie. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Ebellis | 1/11/2014

    " I thought this book would never end! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cyndi | 1/8/2014

    " Good book, but not a page-turner. I wish I would have known before reading it that it was partly autobiographical. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Chelsey | 1/7/2014

    " Wonderful book! I don't know why this isn't on more reading lists! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Constance | 1/6/2014

    " Absolutely one of my all time favorites! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laura | 1/2/2014

    " Overall a great book, that teaches you to be thankful for what you have :) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kesha | 12/25/2013

    " Truly beautiful, honest account of an era that was traditional and shifting to modern times simultaneously. I find Frannie to be a wonderfully reflective character who learned beyond her years thanks to the supervision from her mother, grandmother, and aunts. Smith held no punches when describing the cultural, gender, and socio-economic stereotypes that were not prejudicial. Even the flawed characters were lovable, i.e. Johnny, the father. These characters will stay with me forever. As I listened to this novel, I longed for the traditions presented. A true classic and one of my favorites. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 English101 | 12/23/2013

    " I loved this book...it's timeless! I read it years ago when I was a teen and it is just as refreshing and wonderful to read as a senior adult! Highly recommended! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ally T | 12/13/2013

    " Over the moon for this book!! Epic. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bellylaughs58 | 12/13/2013

    " probably the best book I've ever read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Assia | 12/11/2013

    " This book gave me the feels. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kim | 12/8/2013

    " How did I miss this book growing up. Such memorable characters and such timeless feelings of growing up. Loved it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Talia | 12/7/2013

    " At first this book was a drag. But then I loved it, the end. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jen | 12/2/2013

    " One of my favorite books of all time... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Susie Schmidt | 11/15/2013

    " By far the best book I've ever read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Krista Kenehan | 11/8/2013

    " One of my all time favorites!! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sandy Honzik | 11/2/2013

    " Was slow to start but picked up in the second half. Loved Francies independance. Make me appreciate what we have in todays world. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Annie | 9/22/2013

    " . Amazed how moved I was by this writer. Timeless. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bonnie | 6/5/2013

    " A wonderful classic!!!!! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Annadk | 4/29/2013

    " This has been on my must read list for years & I am so happy that I finally had the chance to read this. It was such a simply written but beautiful story. Would definitely recommend this! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Caroline | 4/7/2013

    " In general, great story, worth reading. I didn't like the last half/quarter of story. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Gail | 3/8/2013

    " This is the only book I have read more than once....first time in my teens. Coincidentally, now my daughter lives in Brooklyn! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Matthew Rotker-Lynn | 3/6/2013

    " What a great book. I first read it in 5th grade and still find myself checking it out around twice a year to read again. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carolyn Stuart | 1/17/2013

    " Could not put it down! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth Morley | 11/27/2012

    " It took me a while to get into the groove with this book (about 150 pages) but once there I couldn't put it down. By the end I was sobbing like a baby and absolutely loved it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jill Rondini | 11/22/2012

    " This has been my favorite book since I was 12. I have read it at least 8 times, and I will read it again. It's a wonderful story for young girls who love to read and are excited about exploring life. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Courtney | 11/9/2012

    " Absolutely beautiful. A poignant story about life, love, growing up - and how to make sense of it all in an ever changing world. I feel that there isn't much else to say, this book speaks for itself. Skillfully written and timeless. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tamara | 10/2/2012

    " I finished the last page and immediately wanted to start over again. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Holly | 9/30/2012

    " Loved it. Timeless novel, Betty Smith does a fantastic job of describing the setting & characters, you feel like you are living in Francie Nolan's shoes, even though the setting was 100-ish years ago. Also interesting is that it's based on Smith's upbringing. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Marci | 8/6/2012

    " I kept reading thinking it would get better, but I was disappointed. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kimberly | 7/15/2012

    " At first I wasn't certain because it was taking me so long to read. I think it was just my own limited time and tiredness though. Once I had some good chunks of time, I didn't want to put it down. I loved the authors voice and the detailed authenticity of the characters in this coming of age novel. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 ccmarsey | 5/3/2012

    " I loved all of the details. It really felt like I was with Francie while she was growing up. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Julia | 3/7/2012

    " Betty Smith's writing is so beautiful. She paints every day pictures in great detail and develops the characters in such a way that you truly feel like you know them. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ren | 1/26/2012

    " I have read this book probably three or four times and I love it. I find myself learning and understanding something new every time; crying in the same parts every time. I never expected to enjoy a book from summer reading list so much. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 StarszBooks | 12/12/2011

    " I have fallen in love. My head is filled with the story still. Only great literature stays with you like that. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Christine | 11/25/2011

    " One of my childhood favorites. So glad I reread it, though it seems like an entirely different story at 53 than it did at 13. I wonder how it will be at 75... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Judy Bludsworth | 10/21/2011

    " One of my favorite books that I read when I was young . "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Angela | 8/4/2011

    " loved this book. a must read, especially for ladies. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shannon | 7/7/2011

    " A very understated, wise book. A great snapshot of life in the early 1900's but written in a way that makes it feel contemporary. Francie Nolan will stay with me for a long time. If life gets me down I'll surely think of Francie's determination & optimism. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Christi | 6/30/2011

    " Apparently, this is a catch-up and re-read summer for me. It's about time with this book.

    Oops, I already read it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Liz | 6/30/2011

    " This is one of my favorite books of all time. I've seriously read this book about 15 times, and it never gets old. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Becky | 6/27/2011

    " I re-read this "summer reading" book because I couldn't remember what it was about! Worth the read! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Christina | 6/26/2011

    " My favorite book! Every female should read it :) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jennifer | 6/25/2011

    " So great. Classic for a reason. Anyone with any connection to education or writing needs to read this book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sarahbeth | 6/25/2011

    " Grew up hearing mom talk about this being her favorite book. So it held a kind of mystique. It was a joy to read. It will now Also reside in my top books. Very special read! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lisa | 6/24/2011

    " It's been decades since I last read this book and I still strongly identify with Francie and I don't understand Katie. it is a beautiful book worth reading again and again. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Di | 6/23/2011

    " One of my favourite books of all time - re-read many times. One of my mum's favourites as well "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kim | 6/23/2011

    " This is the first Novel I ever read when I was 14. I reread it to remember it and loved it! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Katie | 6/22/2011

    " Really interesting view and time! I like that the perspective of the story is told from different people in the different "books", but it all tells the story of one family, and one girl in particular. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cindy | 6/20/2011

    " Another all-time fav. Have read this book many times. "

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About the Author
Author Betty Smith

Betty Smith (1896–1972), was born Elisabeth Wehner in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She studied journalism at the University of Michigan and playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and was a successful, award-winning dramatist. The bestselling A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was her first novel.

About the Narrator

Kate Burton, winner of four Earphones Awards for narration, is best known for her work on Broadway in Hedda Gabler, The Elephant Man, The Constant Wife, and Spring Awakening, as well as on television in Grey’s Anatomy and Empire Falls. Her films include Big Trouble in Little China, The Ice Storm, Unfaithful, and Remember Me. She played the title role in Alice in Wonderland with her father, Richard Burton, on PBS.