Americans during World War II found A Tree Grows in Brooklyn inspiring. Set in a pre-war Brooklyn neighborhood populated largely by immigrants, the book held a nostalgic appeal for its first readers, reminding many of a battle over poverty already won. Others, especially the novel’s first reviewers, savored A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a respite from the often gloomy novels of other naturalistic writers such as Theodore Dreiser and James T. Farrell. Readers today might see the novel as a precursor of more recent young adult novels about sensitive young protagonists who face the conflicts and the delights of growing up. The book renders a vivid portrait of early 20th-century life in Brooklyn: Francie cannot afford expensive pleasures but derives joy nonetheless from visiting the junk dealer, reading in the library, shopping for ground beef and soup bones, and walking more than 40 blocks to school. Like Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe, Smith’s book offers a guide to survival skills, but in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn the skills are targeted for the streets of Brooklyn rather than the wilds of a tropical island.

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