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FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code Hardcover – August 24, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; New title edition (August 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446533106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446533102
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,524,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Conlon-McIvor was a Hoover-era FBI agent's daughter, and her diverting memoir tells her story from birth to adolescence while depicting her father as a man so taciturn that she became convinced his every word was code for something else. As a kid, determined to decipher his character and the other silences around her, the author cast herself in an ongoing dream life as a Nancy Drew–type agent. This made her somewhat withdrawn and silent herself, and at her Catholic school she became known as the shy girl. At home her mother and siblings livened things up, even though the condition of Joey, the youngest, born with Down's syndrome, made her father even more remote. Other relatives in the extended Irish-American family, especially Maura's New York uncle Father Jack, provided a sense of a larger world in a home where the picture of J. Edgar Hoover frowned down from the wall. When tragedy struck, playing at secret agent didn't help as it used to, and Conlon-McIvor finally grew into herself. She conveys her time (the 1960s) and setting (Los Angeles) with precision and detail; her feel for story, structure and understatement rightfully earns the poignancy of many moments.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Growing up Catholic in the 1960s, Conlon-McIvor's favorite religious figure was the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her favorite book character was Nancy Drew. Mysteries fascinated her, and no wonder; her father was an FBI agent, whose car trunk was filled with bullets. Her dream was to follow his path and crack "the code" that made his every glance and word so deliciously baffling. It took many years before Conlon-McIvor understood that her father's taciturn, moody behavior had little to do with his job; it grew from deep sadness and an inability to express emotion. In this touchingly honest memoir, always true to a child's point of view, the author remakes herself as the naive child and awkward teen she was, growing up in a family mostly held together by commitment to her youngest brother, born with Down syndrome. Memories of her long-suffering mother; her beloved uncle Father Jack; and, most of all, her father, whose "code" she finally cracks, blend beautifully in this occasionally funny, affecting account of family ties and personal growth. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I stayed up to read this book in one night.
Virginia Keating
Conlon-McIvor's adeptness at describing the details of her youth will resonate with anyone who grew up in "suburbia" in the '60's and '70's.
Diana Graber
Most importantly, Conlon-McIvor paces the story as if she were writing a novel, no easy task when writing a memoir.
Dr. Cathy Goodwin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
FBI father, Catholic school nuns, big family, sixties-seventies, Downs-syndrome child...I expected yet another story of growing up stifled in the suburbs, with some illicit sex and scandal.

In fact, Conlon-McIver describes a remarkably functional family, bound together by an amazing generosity of spirit. Fascinated by her father's career and her Nancy Drew books, she remembers keeping a log that includes every neighbor's license plate. She wants her father to bring home stories of exciting crimes he solved.

Reviewers have focused Maura's father, Joe, who refused to talk about his work and in fact didn't talk much at all. However, linguist Deborah Tannen has written about the differences in male and female communication styles and John Gray reminds us that men are from Mars. Men just don't want to talk about "my day at work." Like Joe Conlon, they communicate through action.

Reading between the lines, Joe was trained as a lawyer. Although he carried a gun and badge, he probably worked in offices, pushing paper rather than chasing bad guys. He might have been assigned to white collar crime. Here's a clue: he came home regularly for supper nearly every day. So there probably weren't a whole lot of exciting stories to tell.

And we should note that he didn't brush off Maura's questions with ridicule: he just changed the subject. Once he even shared a "trick" of looking out the rear view mirror, probably acquired from another agent who was more active in actual criminal pursuit.

Joe took his kids out to play baseball on Saturday afternoons (another clue: bad guys don't work nine to five weekdays). He even built a ball field.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Judy Shinn on September 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A wonderfully poignant, yet very amusing and entertaining acount of Ms. Conlon-McIver's life growing up in middle America. She has a gift of rhetoric. The vivid descriptions--I can still see and smell the trunk of her father's FBI car, and was transported back to my own childhood memories attending my first school dance. I laughed and cried with the joys and anguish of this girl and her family. I truly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more works by this talented author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Beth Fox on April 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"FBI Girl" is not about the FBI. Nor is it, really, about Maura Conlon-McIvor's father in his role as an FBI agent. It is, instead, a memoir of the childhold of an Irish-American girl attempting to understand her non-communicative, somewhat dysfunctional father, and loving and caring for her Down's Syndrome brother. This brother, Joey, and Maura's exceptionally warm mother, are the glue that holds this family together.

It is a testament to Maura's parents that when their severely-retarded son Joey was born, they did not put him into an institution, which would have been common in the mid-1960s. Maura herself is fiercely protective of Joey, and believes that anyone without a Down's syndrome child in the family is missing something. This is an attitude shared by her father, who believes that the developmentally disabled are really the smart ones and the so-called "normal" people are ignorant. When you read about some of the reactions of the Conlon's neighbors (which range from shock, to avoidance, to guilty stares, to embarrassment and, occasionally, caring and compassion), you don't doubt that this is true.

Maura has a bigger problem, however, communicating with her father who, in her eyes, speaks in some sort of code. Joe Conlon obviously loves his five children, and his love is demonstrated by doing things, rather than talking (whenever Conlon does not want to answer a question, he changes the subject entirely.) Maura believes, incorrectly, that Joe Conlon's job as an FBI special agent precludes him from talking about anything substantive. In fact, as Maura discovers, Conlon's behavior was nothing learned at Quantico or ordered by J. Edgar Hoover.

The story warmly evokes 1960s Los Angeles.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. Griffin VINE VOICE on September 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
FBI Girl is a love story-a young girl's love for her family, portrayed primarily by her interactions with her father, mother, and younger brother Joey, who has Down's syndrome. Maura is an Irish Catholic pre-teen, living in Los Angeles because of her father's job with the FBI. Her father is reserved and uncommunicative, but shows his love for his family through his actions. The descriptions of him checking and double-checking that all the windows and doors are closed and locked are enough to make even the reader feel more secure!

Convinced that her father actually speaks in code, Maura does her best to emulate him, admiring J. Edgar Hoover, reading crime books in the library, and observing him closely. The birth of Maura's youngest brother Joey, who has Down's syndrome, changes the family dynamic as her both of her parents focus on doing all they can on helping Joey have a full life. Her parent's family also plays a role in the story, with a grandmother who is not quite comfortable with Joey, while a beloved uncle that is a priest shows Joey unquestioning love and acceptance.

Maura's story is set in the 1960's, with a backdrop of Catholic grammar school, religion, assertiveness training for her mother, and even a marriage encounter weekend. The setting gives context to the story line and perfectly stages the family and their home for the reader. The book is as joyful as only a story with threads of sorrow can be, and I would recommend it highly.
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