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Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir Paperback – January 9, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

After reading Girls, critics saw parallels between Smith's life and fiction, in particular the second novel in the Poppy Rice mystery series, She's Not There, which features a serial killer of teenage girls. Girls, at once a moving, frank, and often funny memoir, also painfully examines the evil that lurked beneath the surface of a quiet, all-American, working-class neighborhood. Smith alternates memories of her childhood with descriptions of Bob Malm's sexual predation; as an adult, she tracked down the details surrounding her friend's death, from the autopsy report to transcripts of Malm's trial. While the former story is heartfelt, the latter is cold and impersonal, a style that jarred a few critics. Yet overall, Girls is an unforgettable memorial to Irene—and Smith's own past.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743279786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743279789
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


I cannot resist beginning by saying there is a new ebook edition of MASTERS OF ILLUSION: A Novel of the Great Circus Fire, long out-of-print.

I was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut and have lived in Connecticut all my life except for the two years I served as a Peace Corps volunteer on Mt. Cameroon, an active volcano rising nearly 13,400 feet above the equatorial sea. I have a most lovely family including my first dog, a Labradoodle named Salty.

My grandparents on my father's side immigrated from the north of Italy, and on my mother's, Quebec. My fondest childhood memories are of sweltering summers blue-crabbing with my French-speaking grandfather from 5 A.M. until 5 p.m., my grandfather wearing a worn three-piece suit and cap, and me, my underpants. When I told my Italian grandfather that I would be going to Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer he told me there were very good grapes in Africa.

My brother was autistic, a savant, who would not allow singing, laughing, sneezing, electronic sound (including television, radio and anything that produced music), and the flushing of the toilet except when he was asleep and he never seemed to be asleep. He had a library of over two thousand books all on WWII. As his adjutant, I attained a vast pool of knowledge on such things as identifying fighter bombers from their silhouettes and why we dropped the atomic bomb: "To win the war," Tyler told me. Then: "It didn't work so we dropped another one. Victory at last." Once he tried to kill my cat by dropping his latest acquisition, Jane's All the World Aircraft on its head. I rescued the cat in the nick of time as Tyler shouted, "Prepare to drop depth charges, men!" As an autistic person, his senses were fine-tuned to a state none of the rest of us could possibly understand: bright colors (especially red), odors (especially perfume) and noise (particularly a cat meowing), sent him into paroxysms of agony.

The relationship with my brother was one of three influences on my writing; the second, my father's bedtime stories consisting of poetry and prose. Right after the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary," he would recite: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair!" The third influence was the shelf of classic children's literature my mother kept stocked with such gems as The Swiss Family Robinson, Bambi, Tom the Water-Boy, Silver Pennies, King Arthur and the Round Table, The Child's Odyssey. Somehow, The Bedside Esquire (1936) found its way to the shelf and before I was eight years old, I'd read the extraordinary short fiction within including Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Paul Gallico's "Keeping Cool in Conneaut," Salinger's "For Esmé with Love and Squalor," Ben Hecht's "Snowfall in Childhood," and my favorite, "Latins Make Lousy Lovers," by Anonymous. In the collection was an excerpt from the novel, Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato which so bowled me over that I decided then and there that I would be a writer, too, just like all the writers who wrote fiction for Esquire Magazine in 1936.

Instead of studying at college, I read and wrote. I graduated with a 2.01 grade point average not knowing I'd fulfilled my academic requirements until graduation week when my dean called and asked why I hadn't picked up my cap and gown. When I told him my grade point had fallen under 2.0 he told me it was a good thing I hadn't majored in math or it certainly would have. Together we recalculated and I finally believed him when he told me it wasn't 1.89 as I'd thought. To this day, I can't remember my multiplication tables six through twelve, and even though my fourth grade teacher wrote in my report card, Mary-Ann will not be able to function in life if she does not learn her six through twelve tables, I have. Also, I have come to learn that there is a dysfunction called something like dyscalcula, the math equivalent of dyslexia, which I obviously have since if you say to me, "What's 6 times 7?" my palms will start to sweat, my knees get wobbly and I start having a heart attack. This recent revelation of my learning disability has allowed me to stop fantasizing about studying math all over again starting with Algebra I, which I managed to pass with a D though I failed Algebra II, since I'm discalulic.

After Peace Corps service, I taught, worked as a librarian and got my first freelance writing job with Reader's Digest. The Digest editor assigned me sports and games for How to Do Just about Anything, a book which sold 50 million copies world-wide. Reader's Digest made a vast fortune on that book alone, while me and the other writers earned $25 to $75 dollars per article. I learned economy of language writing such pieces as "How to Play Tennis" in fifty words. My first writing collaboration with my son began with this book: I described how to play "Hangman" and the Digest used his piece of paper with a name I couldn't get--yacht-- and so I was hung. This made me feel guilty since the games I played his older sister didn't make the Digest cut, so unfair since she taught her brother how to read when he was three.

I have published nine novels: THE BOOK OF PHOEBE, LAMENT FOR A SILVER-EYED WOMAN, THE PORT OF MISSING MEN, MASTERS OF ILLUSION*, AN AMERICAN KILLING, the Poppy Rice Mysteries--LOVE HER MADLY*, SHE'S NOT THERE*, and SHE SMILED SWEETLY--and THE HONOURED GUEST*. My memoir, GIRLS OF TENDER AGE*, is a favorite of book clubs. (The paperback edition has a great book club guide.) In addition, I collaborated on a novel with my son, Jere Smith, DIRTY WATER: A Red Sox Mystery, which centers on the 2007 World Champions, the team that showed Sox fans that it could happen again.
*available in e-book editions.

In 2010, I was awarded the Diana Bennett Fellowship at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. When I wasn't at MGM Grand being disappeared by David Copperfield, I spent that academic year writing the first draft of The Honoured Guest, a story of the commencement of the American Civil War.

My books have been reprinted in seven foreign languages.

I have also had short fiction and essays included in several collections.

I have taught fiction writing at Fairfield University and has participated in writing seminars throughout the country. In March 2001, I was guest teacher-writer at the University of Ireland and on the Aran Islands; and writer-in-residence at Suomi College in Michigan.

I teach memoir writing at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

And finally, I am now working on a new memoir: My Décolletage Has a Scar.

So Happy Reading. And remember: "It's not what you read, or how you read, but that you read."--me


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In a very bad week for memoirs, I picked up Mary Ann Tirone Smith's haunting, Girls of Tender Age. I, too, grew up in Hartford in the fifties and sixies, very close to her neighborhood. Our paths surely must have crossed at Hartford Public High School, in the same corner stores, parks, and churches, though we didn't know each other. Every page rings a bell, sometimes a mournfully when she grieves the loss of a murdered childhood friend; the deaths of so many much-loved relatives; the death of her very own childhood as the sister of an autistic brother. But many joys ring out in her book--the local Italian club; her uncle's one-night only bagna cauda sending its garlicky, and forbidden perfumes through her house; an elevator her mechanically-minded brother hijacked in Fox's Department Store; the way Lincoln Dairy ice cream could make you forget the hurts of the day. Mary Ann captures that time when adults assumed we knew more about certain things than we did and less about what we weren't supposed to know--their secrets.
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Format: Hardcover
This isn't just the sort of book I could use words like 'evocative' and 'compelling' and 'heartwarming' about with a straight face, it's one that makes you wish you'd known the people involved. A simple, straightforward account of a life that was anything but, Girls of a Tender Age required me to stay up much too late and finish it in one sitting. Unlike many authors, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith has no time for naval gazing. Her look is outward, to the people and place that formed her, and her compassion for both is evident in every tale. It's so hard to discuss this book as part of the joy in it is discovering how she unwraps the events. While the author and I are of different generations we share an important event in our life and her exploration of that time (and it's aftermath) is simply beautiful. She does justice to those she loved and makes you love them a bit as well. Really, you should read as little about the book as possible and move on to reading it for yourself. I can't praise it enough.
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Format: Hardcover
this is a compelling and touching book, ringing particularly true to me because i am of the same generation as tirone smith, a child of working stiffs, and a connecticut native. words like "cloakroom" and references to warm milk brought me right back to my grammar school classrooms. her story is generally evocative of a child's life in the 50's and 60's -- hardly an enlightened time in the working class world and specifically evocative of her own unique life. tirone smith definitely and clearly illuminates her childhood as one which is deserving of some bit of sympathy, but does not ask for that sympathy or expect (or want) it. her dad would be very proud of her.
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Format: Hardcover
"Girls of Tender Age" is the first book that I've ever read by this author. I really appreciate her conversational writing style and pacing. Since this is a memoir I must mention that as a reader I never felt that Mary-Ann Tirone Smith was embellishing the story of her childhood for dramatic effect but was instead matter of factly relating the unvarnished truth whether it be good,bad or ugly. "Girls of Tender Age" is nostalgiac and funny and sad and once I started reading it I couldn't put it down until I had finished it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the kind of book I normally buy in hardcover as soon as it is released, but when I saw it I just had the feeling that it was one more memoir in the vein of The Glass Castle, Cherry, etc. and that I could do without another one. However, when it came out in paperback I looked at the 5-star reviews on Amazon.com and decided to buy it. I am so glad I did! This memoir has a totally different bent than the other ones, and not just because of the murder mystery interspersed throughout. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith definitely has her own voice among others such as Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls, Barbara Robinette, Sandra Leigh, Jill Kerr Conway, etc. who have all written extraordinary memoirs of their own. This book deals with the long-ago murder of a childhood friend as well as a brother who has autism, and, of course, the usual dysfunctional parents. It is a story told with heart and a lot of humor, which one would have to have to get through her life as beautifully as she did. I highly recommend this book, as well as the memoirs by the authors listed above.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ms. Tirone Smith's memoir is both enchanting and riveting. She shares with us her life growing up in Hartford in the 1950's. This book is a very fast read and works extremely well of a number of levels.

Ms. Tirone Smith's older brother is autistic but nobody talks about that other than to say he's "retarded". She descibes in loving detail his eccentricities - his obsession with World War II and polka music, his aversion to loud noises. Without seeking pity, she describes how this disorder has a profound effect on the functioning of the family. (This book should be required reading for family therapist's. It does a great job of describing how a "dysfunctional" family organizes around a problem. However, it also shows how functional a "dysfunctional" family can be. Illustrating this point, there is an aside very late in the book in which she attends a support group for siblings of adult autistics. It's hillarious.)

The core element of the story is the rape and murder of a classmate, Irene. Ms. Tirone Smith recounts both the events of the murder but also looks at how her family and the town reacted to it. Later in life, she also realizes that she has repressed much of what has happened. She embarks on a journey to reconstruct the case, trial and execution.

All of this is set against the backdrop of a Catholic/ethnic Hartford neighborhood in the 1950's. The story is told in loving detail and can be appreciated on so many levels. (Also, don't skip the "Notes" at the end, they include a recipe for Pinapple Cream Pie.) THIS IS AN OUTSTANDING BOOK!!!
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