11 Moving Books Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Do you want to read more books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith? The books on this list are perfect choices for anyone looking for a similar novel with unforgettable characters, strong females, and hopeful stories of perseverance.

Betty Smith’s classic novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is a favorite of so many readers. This tale of a young girl growing up in poverty in Brooklyn, New York, has moved readers for decades.

Francie Nolan is an introspective, bookish girl who escapes into her imagination when the grind of poverty and her father’s alcoholism get to be too much.

Despite the bleakness, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is ultimately a hopeful story, with the eponymous tree as the central metaphor of resilience.

The book, first published in 1943, was released as an Armed Services Edition–small enough to fit in the pockets of soldiers (it even shows up in the Band of Brothers mini-series).

(I feel like this is a good history lesson for publishers who want authors to change their main characters from females to males. If an 11-year-old girl could inspire soldiers fighting in WWII, surely today’s kids can also relate to a resilient girl. Publishers who rejected Betty for 20 years, I’m looking at you.)

While A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a stand-out book for any reader, there are similar novels with common themes that are excellent books to read after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–and many of them have diverse characters.

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About A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a classic long book that will help you start a reading habit.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author: Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the much-loved classic about a young girl, Francie Nolan, growing up in poverty in turn-of-century Brooklyn. Francie is a bookish, resourceful child, caught between her dreamer of a father and her work-worn, practical mother.

Francie is self-aware and a keen observer of people and the life around her, a heroine who manages to continue to seek beauty even as it seems determined to elude her.

If you loved Betty Smith’s classic coming-of-age novel, you may like these books that are similar to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Books Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend

Author: Elena Ferrante

The first in The Neapolitan Novels series, My Brilliant Friend tells the story of the friendship of two girls growing up in a poor, rough neighborhood in 1950s Naples, Italy. Lila especially is compelling in her impulsive magnetism, and I related to the bookish reserve of Elena (the narrator), always trying to keep up with her friend even as she, in many ways, surpasses her.

As they follow different paths and forge their own identities, the girls weather the push and pull of adolescence experienced amidst the changing political and cultural landscape that surrounds them. 

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Young girls coming of age in poor neighborhoods
  • Introspective, bookish main characters of Francie and Elena

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Author: John Boyne

Born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s, Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery. From an early age, Cyril knows he’s different: not a “real Avery,” and not attracted to girls like his friends.

The book follows Cyril through his life, from his youth and twenties spent in hiding in a repressive Dublin to a more open life in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril’s search for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns funny, frustrating, and sad.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle

Author: Jeannette Walls

Walls’ memoir of her childhood in a family with a reckless sense of freedom and free-spirited rootlessness that ultimately devolves into breathtaking selfishness and neglect. Walls and her siblings learn to care for themselves and find the wherewithal to leave and pursue their own paths.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • A girl growing up in poverty
  • A charismatic but destructive father

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Betty

Author: Tiffany McDaniel

Betty is the sixth of eight children growing up in Breathed, Ohio, a small town in the Appalachian foothills. Her father–who Betty takes after–is Cherokee and her mother is white, and their life is both brutal and magical.

Her father’s imaginative stories open her eyes to the natural world and the power of story–both escapes from daily realities. Overt racism from the community and secret horrors within the family plague each member in different ways.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • A girl growing up in a poor family with a charismatic father
  • Bookish main character

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle

Author: Dodie Smith

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family live in a castle in the English countryside, but they are far from wealthy. This family of dreamers and creatives can hardly put food on the table.

When two young Americans arrive to take over the estate of their deceased landlord, they bring new hope to the family: of creative patronage, of potential marriage, and of (continued) free rent. Aspiring writer Cassandra details the adventures of the family in her journal as they move from abject poverty into high society.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Bookish girls growing up in poverty
  • Unforgettable main characters


Away by Amy Bloom

Away

Author: Amy Bloom

After losing her family in a Russian pogrom, Lillian Leyb comes to America and talks her way into a job and the lives of some New York theater powerhouses. Intent only on survival, her focus is finding and maintaining stability–until word arrives that her young daughter, Sophie, may have survived the slaughter. Lillian then begins a journey across the United States, intent on returning to Siberia to find her daughter.

From New York to Seattle to the Alaskan wilderness, Lillian calls on wiles and a resourcefulness she never knew she had.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Historical fiction about resourceful women surviving difficult circumstances

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Dominicana

Author: Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana’s mother sees one path for their family to get to America from the Dominican Republic in 1965: Ana’s marriage to Juan Ruiz. With little English and few skills, Ana is isolated at the mercy of Juan, who is unfaithful and sometimes cruel.

When he returns to the Dominican Republic for several months, she begins to dream of a new kind of life for herself, with Juan’s brother Cesar. But she must make a decision when her family’s dreams of joining her become reality.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • A resourceful girl’s coming-of-age story
  • Historical fiction and poverty in New York

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

In the 1940s, 19-year-old Vivian Morris is kicked out of Vassar and sent to live with her aunt, who owns the failing Lily Theater in New York. Vivian embraces the glitz, glamour, and her new wild lifestyle wholeheartedly, until a scandal takes it all away.

Vivian, narrating from her eighties, emphasizes her own naivety and mediocrity, but Vivian proves to be anything but mediocre. Her wild years serve as the basis for a substantial, independent life unheard of for women in the time, and lived fully on her own terms.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Historical fiction set in New York
  • Women forging their own path

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author: Junot Díaz

Oscar is a nerdy, overweight, hopeful teenager, growing up in the ghetto with his Dominican family. He wants nothing more than to fall in love and to be the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. Oscar is endearing for his sweet insecurity, but also for how he embraces and immerses himself in the nerdy things he loves: anime, video games, comics, RPGs, fantasy and science fiction.

You hope for him, even knowing he is doomed to a brief life–and he does too, as he grapples with the fuku (curse) that plagues his family. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is both character study and exploration of Dominican history and the immigrant experience.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Teens growing up in poverty
  • Main character immersed in their introverted hobbies

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

Author: Stacey Lee

In the early 1900s, Jo Kuan–a teenager of Chinese descent–lives on the fringes of Atlanta. She and her adopted father Old Jin cobble together a life by squatting in the basement of a newspaper and working jobs that barely sustain them.

When the newspaper is in danger of folding, Jo comes up with a plan to save it–and her home. She begins anonymously writing as “Miss Sweetie,” an advice columnist who gets people talking with her progressive ideas about race, gender roles, and suffrage.

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Turn-of-the-century historical fiction
  • Young girls with rich inner lives, living in poverty

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow

Author: Lauren Wolk

Twelve-year-old Annabelle is content with her life in school and on her family farm until Betty shows up in town. Betty quickly proves herself a cruel bully who has it out for Annabelle and anyone near her, including Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran who has befriended Annabelle and her family. As the stakes rise, Annabelle’s strength and compassion are put to the test.

A Newbery Honor winner, this middle grade novel blew me away with its spare but insightful, searing writing

How it’s like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

  • Unforgettable female protagonists
  • Historical fiction

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4 Comments

  1. Betty Smith has another novel called Tomorrow Will Be Better, have you read it? I think I might like it even more than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    1. I haven’t, but it’s been on my radar this year. I’m glad to hear it’s worth the read!

  2. I’d like to add the following book as a suggested read following the themes of “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”. – Maura’s Dream by Joel Gross. It’s about an immigrant girl forced to enter New York City in the 1800s, under horrific conditions, and how she lifted herself up out of her personal hell to become successful and have a blessed life.

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