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Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir

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Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In Girls of Tender Age, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith fully articulates with great humor and tenderness the wild jubilance of an extended French-Italian family struggling to survive in a post-World War II housing project in Hartford, Connecticut. Smith seamlessly combines a memoir whose intimacy matches that of Angela's Ashes with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator that holds the emotional and cultural resonance of The Lovely Bones.

Smith's Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone's door is unlocked and the school, church, library, drugstore, 5 & 10, grocery, and tavern are all within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters — her possibly psychic mother who's always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her adoring father who makes sure she has something to eat in the morning beyond her usual gulp of Hershey's syrup, her grandfather who teaches her to bash in the heads of the eels they catch on Long Island Sound, Uncle Guido who makes the annual bagna cauda, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days. And then there's her brother, Tyler.

Smith's household was "different." Little Mary-Ann couldn't have friends over because her older brother, Tyler, an autistic before anyone knew what that meant, was unable to bear noise of any kind. To him, the sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was "a cloud of barbed needles" flying into his face. Subject to such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off. Tyler was Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley, albeit one whose bookshelves sagged under the weight of the World War II books he collected and read obsessively.

Hanging over this rough-and-tumble American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953 forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.

Girls of Tender Age is one of those books that will forever change its readers because of its beauty and power and remarkable wit.

Review:

"The recovery of repressed memories of the 1953 murder by a serial killer of an 11-year-old friend and neighbor in a blue-collar enclave in Hartford, Conn., triggered Smith's absorbing memoir. In recalling her childhood, she is compelled to describe her upbringing in a fractured family whose existence centered on placating her older brother, Tyler, an autistic boy who couldn't bear sounds of any kind (crying, laughing, sneezing, dog barking). The narrative is further enriched by the author's investigations into the life and crimes of the psychopath who preyed on her friend and other little girls, and by her insights about the unequal rights of girls and women before feminism. The making of a writer is the subtext here; forbidden by her strict Catholic upbringing to question her parents, Smith was forced to develop her imagination. She was blessed with a nurturing father, who was the lifesaving antidote to her cold, selfish mother. Smith's ironic narrative voice, familiar to readers of her Poppy Rice mysteries and her sensitive and witty novels, serves her well. Larger than the sum of its parts, this book illuminates a social class as it recounts a tangled story of a family and a crime. Photos. Agent, Molly Friedrich. (Jan. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"A neighborhood map appears at the beginning of the book, but the engrossing text makes clear that evil can never be charted accurately enough." Booklist

Review:

"The childhood memories are great fun; the crime reporting workmanlike; the portrait of the adult relationships touching." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Girls of Tender Age is a very good story. It gives the reader unexpected insight into the making of that most exposed of outsiders — the writer." Cleveland Plain Dealer

Review:

"With intelligence, disarming humor and deep affection for the families and the neighborhoods of the 1950s, Girls of Tender Age speaks eloquently on behalf of children and confronts the crippling silences that damage us in any era." Washington Post

Review:

"Like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Girls of Tender Age peers into the dark spaces between the street lights in a quiet residential neighborhood." New York Times

Review:

"[S]lowly and skillfully, as if crafting a handmade quilt, Smith takes the raw material of this all-American tale and weaves into the pattern a jagged thread..." San Fransisco Chronicle

Review:

"A masterful fiction writer tells her own story: one little girl dies, the other comes of age and gives voice to herself and her murdered friend. Riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious, I loved this book for its compassion, its vividness, and its flashes of justifiable anger. A life-affirming read." Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True

Review:

"This is a riveting book, memory lane as a crime scene that needs to be relived to be understood. In this family saga of ethnic New England (a seldom-visited subject, but one dear to my heart), Ms. Tirone Smith has put all her energy as a writer of crime fiction to solve a mystery from her own past." Paul Theroux

Review:

"Girls of Tender Age begins as a charming story of place; it becomes a brutal moral indictment and a very important book. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith writes with the muscle and sly ease which are the hallmarks of a master at work." Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch

Synopsis:

In Girls of Tender Age, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith fully articulates with great humor and tenderness the wild jubilance of an extended French-Italian family struggling to survive in a post-World War II housing project in Hartford, Connecticut. Smith seamlessly combines a memoir whose intimacy matches that of Angela's Ashes with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator that holds the emotional and cultural resonance of The Lovely Bones.

Smith's Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone's door is unlocked and the school, church, library, drugstore, 5 and 10, grocery, and tavern are all within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters — her possibly psychic mother who's always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her adoring father who makes sure she has something to eat in the morning beyond her usual gulp of Hershey's syrup, her grandfather who teaches her to bash in the heads of the eels they catch on Long Island Sound, Uncle Guido who makes the annual bagna cauda, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days. And then there's her brother, Tyler.

Smith's household was "different." Little Mary-Ann couldn't have friends over because her older brother, Tyler, an autistic before anyone knew what that meant, was unable to bear noise of any kind. To him, the sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was "a cloud of barbed needles" flying into his face. Subject to such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off. Tyler was Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley, albeit one whose bookshelves sagged under the weight of the World War II books he collected and read obsessively.

Hanging over this rough-and-tumble American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953 forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.

Girls of Tender Age is one of those books that will forever change its readers because of its beauty and power and remarkable wit.

About the Author

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is the author of eight novels. She has lived all her life in Connecticut, except for two years when she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Debra Hamel/book-blog.com, January 8, 2007 (view all comments by Debra Hamel/book-blog.com)
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's Girls of Tender Age is a memoir wrapped around a true crime story. She writes about growing up among the "working stiffs" of 1950's Hartford, Connecticut under less than ideal conditions: Smith's mother was distant and negligent, while her father was a sort of saint who devoted his life to caring for the author's autistic older brother at a time when no one understood that condition. Smith's autobiographical chapters--compelling enough without the introduction of further drama--are interspersed with brief sections, sometimes chillingly succinct, on the career of serial rapist and murderer Bob Malm. Eventually, the two threads of Smith's story meet, tragically, when the author is nine years old. Smith's account of Malm's crime and the lasting effect it had on her life is a powerful, impressive piece of nonfiction.
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(9 of 14 readers found this comment helpful)
crowyhead, August 22, 2006 (view all comments by crowyhead)
When Mary-Ann Tirone Smith was in fifth grade, one of her classmates was raped and murdered. If you've ever been through the violent death of someone close to you (or even someone you're acquainted with), you know the hush that falls around that person's name. People don't want to bring it up. They talk circles around it, they come up with euphemisms that make it less frightening to refer to. For Mary-Ann, the hush was even more drastic. The day after Irene's murder, her desk was removed from the classroom, and her teacher said, "No one will talk about Irene." And no one did.

Now, fifty years later, Smith is determined to talk about it, and talk about the rest of her life at the time as well. The result is a wonderful memoir. It's not just a memorial to Irene, although she was the catalyst. It's also about Smith's home life with her brother Tyler, who we now would know was autistic, but to everyone at the time was just a "retarded" kid with a lot of bizarre ticks and an all-consuming obsession with World War II. It's about a mother who was constantly "on the verge of a nervous breakdown," but still managed to work the "housewife shift" from 3:30-11 every evening to help care for her family. And it's about Mary-Ann's father, who catered desperately to Tyler's quirks in the hope of keeping him safe and the rest of the family sane.

What's great about this memoir is that Smith manages to get across the fact that although her family life was strange and her childhood marked by Irene's murder, she still loves her family deeply. It's not one of those "this is how bad my life was and how it's damaged me" kind of memoirs -- Smith is honest about the way her family life has colored the way she interacts with others, and she is clearly deeply angry about the way Irene's death was hushed up by everyone, including her own family. But the overall effect is a feeling that everyone was doing their best with what they were dealt.
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(20 of 33 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780743279772
Publisher:
Free Press
Subject:
General
Author:
Smith, Mary-Ann Tirone
Author:
Tirone Smith, Mary-Ann
Subject:
Novelists, American
Subject:
Child molesters
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Novelists, American -- 20th century.
Subject:
Hartford (Conn.) - Social life and customs
Subject:
Biography - General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardback
Publication Date:
January 2006
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
29 b-w photos throughout; 1 map
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 18.585 oz
Age Level:
A Memoir

Related Subjects

Biography » General
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 304 pages Free Press - English 9780743279772 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The recovery of repressed memories of the 1953 murder by a serial killer of an 11-year-old friend and neighbor in a blue-collar enclave in Hartford, Conn., triggered Smith's absorbing memoir. In recalling her childhood, she is compelled to describe her upbringing in a fractured family whose existence centered on placating her older brother, Tyler, an autistic boy who couldn't bear sounds of any kind (crying, laughing, sneezing, dog barking). The narrative is further enriched by the author's investigations into the life and crimes of the psychopath who preyed on her friend and other little girls, and by her insights about the unequal rights of girls and women before feminism. The making of a writer is the subtext here; forbidden by her strict Catholic upbringing to question her parents, Smith was forced to develop her imagination. She was blessed with a nurturing father, who was the lifesaving antidote to her cold, selfish mother. Smith's ironic narrative voice, familiar to readers of her Poppy Rice mysteries and her sensitive and witty novels, serves her well. Larger than the sum of its parts, this book illuminates a social class as it recounts a tangled story of a family and a crime. Photos. Agent, Molly Friedrich. (Jan. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "A neighborhood map appears at the beginning of the book, but the engrossing text makes clear that evil can never be charted accurately enough."
"Review" by , "The childhood memories are great fun; the crime reporting workmanlike; the portrait of the adult relationships touching."
"Review" by , "Girls of Tender Age is a very good story. It gives the reader unexpected insight into the making of that most exposed of outsiders — the writer."
"Review" by , "With intelligence, disarming humor and deep affection for the families and the neighborhoods of the 1950s, Girls of Tender Age speaks eloquently on behalf of children and confronts the crippling silences that damage us in any era."
"Review" by , "Like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Girls of Tender Age peers into the dark spaces between the street lights in a quiet residential neighborhood."
"Review" by , "[S]lowly and skillfully, as if crafting a handmade quilt, Smith takes the raw material of this all-American tale and weaves into the pattern a jagged thread..."
"Review" by , "A masterful fiction writer tells her own story: one little girl dies, the other comes of age and gives voice to herself and her murdered friend. Riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious, I loved this book for its compassion, its vividness, and its flashes of justifiable anger. A life-affirming read."
"Review" by , "This is a riveting book, memory lane as a crime scene that needs to be relived to be understood. In this family saga of ethnic New England (a seldom-visited subject, but one dear to my heart), Ms. Tirone Smith has put all her energy as a writer of crime fiction to solve a mystery from her own past."
"Review" by , "Girls of Tender Age begins as a charming story of place; it becomes a brutal moral indictment and a very important book. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith writes with the muscle and sly ease which are the hallmarks of a master at work."
"Synopsis" by , In Girls of Tender Age, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith fully articulates with great humor and tenderness the wild jubilance of an extended French-Italian family struggling to survive in a post-World War II housing project in Hartford, Connecticut. Smith seamlessly combines a memoir whose intimacy matches that of Angela's Ashes with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator that holds the emotional and cultural resonance of The Lovely Bones.

Smith's Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone's door is unlocked and the school, church, library, drugstore, 5 and 10, grocery, and tavern are all within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters — her possibly psychic mother who's always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her adoring father who makes sure she has something to eat in the morning beyond her usual gulp of Hershey's syrup, her grandfather who teaches her to bash in the heads of the eels they catch on Long Island Sound, Uncle Guido who makes the annual bagna cauda, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days. And then there's her brother, Tyler.

Smith's household was "different." Little Mary-Ann couldn't have friends over because her older brother, Tyler, an autistic before anyone knew what that meant, was unable to bear noise of any kind. To him, the sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was "a cloud of barbed needles" flying into his face. Subject to such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off. Tyler was Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley, albeit one whose bookshelves sagged under the weight of the World War II books he collected and read obsessively.

Hanging over this rough-and-tumble American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953 forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.

Girls of Tender Age is one of those books that will forever change its readers because of its beauty and power and remarkable wit.

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