Classic novel about coming-of-age and the American Dream. It was written by Betty Smith around the time of World War II, although the action of the book takes place during the 1910's and 1920's.

The main character in the book is Francie Nolan, a bright, creative young girl who grows up in poverty in Brooklyn. Her father is an alcoholic who works as a singing waiter, and her mother supports the family as a janitor. She also has a young brother.

Most of the first half of the book deals with Francie's love of learning and desires for a better life, and contrasts it with the grinding, depressing poverty she must live in. However, no one in her family ever sees themselves as being inferior, even when they are treated derisively by outsiders.

The second half of the book describes the family's eventual rise to being middle class, and Francie's successful career.

In the introduction to the book, Betty Smith says that she got hundreds of letters by people saying that the book seemed to describe their childhood and family life perfectly. I think that this is true not only because the book can reflect the embarrassment that children experience while growing up in poverty, but a feeling that all children have at one time or another of being outside the group.

This book is for real. If you have ever forgotten what it is like to feel humiliated because you are different, read this book. And, (meaning no disrespect to Jon Katz), while the youth of today may feel different because they enjoy playing with computers, it is quite another thing to feel different because you are the only person in your class who hasn't eaten for two days.

The title of the book is derived from the Ailanthus tree, a tree that grows in urban areas, and can gain up to eight feet in a single year, even when it is growing out of a crack in a sidewalk. The tree's tenacity and ability to grow in the most hostile environments is a metaphor for the characters in the book.

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