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Set in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York in September 1937 during The Great Depression, this coming-of-age comedy focuses on Eugene Morris Jerome, a Polish-Jewish American teenager who experiences puberty, sexual awakening, and a search for identity as he tries to deal with his family, including his older brother Stanley, his parents Kate and Jack, Kate’s sister Blanche, and her two daughters, Nora and Laurie, who come to live there after their father’s death.

The new living arrangement is taking its toll on Jack’s health, as he has to work two stressful jobs to support the extended family.

Meanwhile, Aunt Blanche is interested in dating their neighbor, who has a drinking problem, despite Kate’s objections; Stanley faces problems with his own job when he stands up to his somewhat tyrannical boss, and later resorts to some shady means to support the family’s struggle; cousin Nora, whom Eugene has a crush on, is eager to be a paid dancer in a Broadway musical, even though the family’s circumstances might not allow it, much to her dismay; and cousin Laurie, who has heart problems and requires frequent doctor visits, is a source of annoyance for Eugene.

All the while the family has other relatives living in Poland, which is under invasion, and they are worried about what might happen if they remain there, or how they’ll be able to put them up if they escape and come to Brooklyn.