Books by Betty Smith: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn & More

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn cover

Betty Smith (1896 – 1972) is best known for her coming-of-age books, most notably, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This classic novel, beloved by readers for many generations, mirrored the author’s own impoverished childhood. The three other books by Betty Smith are well worth reading, and we’ll explore them here.

Smith was compelled to drop out of school at age fourteen to work, and help support her family. The challenges of tenement life as seen through the eyes of the novel’s heroine, Francie Nolan, as well as her early jobs, were inspired by Smith’s own experiences. Elements of her life as a young wife and mother came through in the character of Katie, Francie’s mother.

How many of us have read and re-read and re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? It’s one of those books that can be revisited at various stages in life and seen from a different perspective each time.

Granted, none of Smith’s other three novels achieved quite the same success as A Tree, but they share the unifying themes of struggles in an urban setting, and above all, family bonds.

So if you loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, give Betty Smith’s other three novels a try — Joy in the Morning, Maggie-Now, and Tomorrow Will Be Better may not quite live up to the genius of her freshman effort, but they satisfy the reader in similar ways.

. . . . . . . . . . .

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)

A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

After years of struggling to be a successful writer (she had already achieved a measure of success as a playwright), Betty Smith struck literary gold with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s is seen from the perspective of Francie Nolan, a down-to-earth girl who’s neither the kind of genius or beautiful heroine that are favored in novels.

She possesses a more relatable kind of awkwardness, but her quiet courage in the face of poverty and other obstacles can’t be overlooked. Members of Francie’s immediate and extended family populate this novel with complex, sympathetic characterizations.

. . . . . . . . . .

Tomorrow Will Be Better (1948)

Betty Smith-Tomorrow Will Be Better

The families depicted in Tomorrow Will Be Better  the Shannons and the Malones — might be fictional neighbors of the Nolan family of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Set in the tenements of Brooklyn in the 1920s, it’s an American story of the  pursuit of dreams in the face of obstacles — not the least of which is poverty. 

This is primarily the tale of Margy Shannon, a young woman filled with hope, and in search of happiness and a better life, who faces disappointment with quiet dignity. As a reviewer noted, “Miss Smith has written a quiet, warm book about people she obviously knows and loves well.”

. . . . . . . . . .

Maggie-Now (1958)

Maggie-Now by Betty S

Maggie-Now (1958), like A Tree, is the story of an Irish immigrant family in Brooklyn in the early 1900s, when immigrants arrived in droves to New York City.

Though Maggie’s family is Irish, the book examines other immigrant groups as they turned Brooklyn into a melting pot. Maggie-Now, her parents, and her husband are central to this story of of making a living and raising a family, with all the joys and challenges along the way.

. . . . . . . . . .

Joy in the Morning (1963)

Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

In Joy in the Morning, Betty Smith departs from the familiar haunts of Brooklyn to tell story of a married couple, with all their quarrels and tears, love and laughter (“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”), hardships, fears, and small triumphs, including parenthood.

Once again, the novel reflects the author’s own life, as she left Brooklyn to follow her husband to the University of Michigan and became a mother at a young age. And though the real-life marriage didn’t last, the experience gave her material for a relatable, everyday kind of narrative, well told.

. . . . . . . . . .

4 Novels by Betty Smith: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Maggie-Now, Tomorrow Will Be Better, Joy in the Morning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *