The protagonist is a young girl Francie Nolan who comes of age in early 20th century in Brooklyn. She adores her handsome, alcoholic, ne'er do well Irish father Johnnie Nolan and fights for her mother Katie's love. Katie is hard-working and even though she still loves Johnnie she is a realist and struggles to feed and educate her children. The youngest child is a boy named Neely who looks just like his father but Katie vows that her son will not end the same. The running theme throughout the novel is the important of education. Francie's parents and grandparents firmly believe this is the only way for the poor to leave poverty behind. Francie has a colorful family, Aunt Sissy loves men and always calls them "Her John". When the book was written there was no explanation as to why, but in today's world no explanation is needed. Johnnie had several brothers who died young, every one a handsome alcoholic. I love how the children view the neighborhood retailers, I love how surplus Christmas trees are"given" to children. France's story is both heart-breaking and hopeful. She is like the "tree of life" as described in the novel, she manages to grow and thrive in spite of poverty and a sometimes harsh and brutal environment.