A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Book review by
Molly Coplan, Common Sense Media
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Book Poster Image
Parents recommend
Classic, moving story of girl growing up poor in New York.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teaches about life in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY in the early 20th century, including the role of women in society and the effect of war on a country.

Positive Messages

While dealing with serious subjects such as alcoholism, pre-marital sex, and gambling, the Nolan family displays resilience, strength, and the ability to overcome obstacles.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Francie is a smart, thoughtful girl who loves learning and school. She works hard to ensure she can continue her education. She takes care of her family, including her brother and sick father. Francie's mother shows value of hard work and sacrifice for her family. 


A man molests and kills a 7-year-old girl in Francie's neighborhood. The man then tries to molest another girl in an intense and vividly depicted scene. A man is shot in the stomach with a gun. A man dies of alcoholism. A school teacher hits boys on their naked buttocks and hits girls over their dresses. A woman is stoned by other women in the neighborhood.


Mentions of sex are mostly innocent and nondescript. Francie's aunt, Sissy, is promiscuous which hurts her reputation within Williamsburg. When Francie's older, she contemplates having sex with a man she loves before he goes off to war. Francie has a frank conversation with her mother about having sex before marriage in which her mother does not condone it, but admits that having sex when in love, no matter when, is beautiful.


Some mature language: "ass," "bastards," "hell," "bitch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Men and women drink and smoke heavily in Williamsburg. Francie's father is an alcoholic and is drunk numerous times. The book shows the devastating effects of alcohol and makes Francie contemplate her future relationship with alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant literary classic that tells the story of Francie Nolan as she grows up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, from 1902 to 1919. The novel brings to life the world in which Francie lives, yet portrays experiences that kids of any era can relate to -- navigating sibling relationships, making new friends, and discovering first love. It also deals with more serious subjects, such as Francie's father's alcoholism, the death of a loved one, an attempted molestation, and premarital sex causing a ruined reputation. Yet, these issues are seen through the eyes of an innocent young girl and presented in an emotionally authentic way. 

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byNickJones July 17, 2019

Empowering and filled with many of life's lessons.

I wish that I had read it when I was twelve.
Parent Written bygrandmareader December 3, 2018

A beautiful book but contains adult themes

I loved Francie Nolan as she navigated her poverty-riddled Brooklyn neighborhood and traumatic and dramatic family life. Betty Smith did an exceptional job with... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old April 5, 2020

Great book with violence, drinking and sex

This book is great and Francie is a great role model showing that nobody is perfect. Her father has a drinking problem and it is neither encouraged nor frowne... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMissmarshmallow January 31, 2020

Amazing Story!

I read this last year, and I didn't really like it the first time. Then I read it again and I loved it. The vivid description of Francie's life really... Continue reading

What's the story?

Francie Nolan is a smart, astute, imaginative girl who loves reading. She lives in the slums of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, where her mother, Katie, works as a cleaning lady and her father, Johnny, holds unsteady jobs due to his alcoholism. Francie spends much of her day with her younger brother, Neeley, or reading books. She loves school and learning, and fears that her family may not be able to afford to continue sending her to school.The novel follows Francie from age 11 until she's a young woman with a job. As she grows up, Francie and her family struggle to make ends meet and often go to bed hungry. Yet, she loves her family, especially her often-singing father and her aunts, who have their own sordid lives, and experiences first love.

Is it any good?

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is a called a classic for a reason: It's beautifully written, insightful, and Francie's story is timeless. While the unfolding plot has ups, downs, twists, and turns, Francie's introspective, wise perspective makes this work the honest novel that it is. Readers will rejoice in Francie's highest highs and mourn in her lowest lows. The story also underscores the powerful impact of place on childhood.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how A Tree Grows in Brooklyn compares with other coming-of-age novels. What makes Francie's story unique, and what's similar to what other coming-of-age protagonists experience?

  • Ask your parents what impact the place they grew up in had on their lives.

  • Why do you think this novel is considered a classic?

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