Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2006
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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2006
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2006
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2006
"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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
GIRLS OF A TENDER AGE is heartbreakingly wonderful. The story sings, which is quite an accompliment for such a gripping and painful narrative. I am floored by her prose, her careful handling of such a sensitive subject, and the ability to draw me in from the first page and never turn me loose!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
No one locked their doors. Few mothers drove cars. Kids walked to school, church, and the neighborhood grocery, and played under street lights at dusk. On the surface, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's 1950's childhood was idyllic. But scratch that surface, and it quickly becomes apparent that nothing could be further from the truth. First, there was her remote mother, always on the verge of the then fashionable nervous breakdown. Then, her older brother, a manipulative, tyrannical child who never received an education or treatment because no one knew quite what was wrong with him. Mary Ann's first ten years were spent doing normal childhood activities but walking on eggshells and suppressing her own needs at home. Her description of American culture in that post war era are priceless, and she does it with humor, touches of sarcasm, and dead-on accuracy.

Then, all at once. on the day of the 5th grade field trip to the electric company, a classmate of Mary-Ann is brutally murdered by a pedophile. True to the times, no one discusses the tragedy, and the kids are left to wonder about every facet of that terrifying crime. And to cope with its psychological consequences entirely on their own.

Ms Tirone Smith wrote this memoir as a memorial to her friend, having summoned the courage to face the grief and the issues she had buried for decades. She traces the course of the apprehension, trial, and punishment of the killer in clinical detail. And she has succeeded nobly, writing with grace and distinction. Readers of Girls of Tender Age will long remember theheartbreaking story of little Irene with the "Loretta Young eyes."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A playmate is missing. The adults soon discover she was the victim of a sex crime, assaulted and murdered. Are grief counselors brought to the school to help the children cope? No, instead her desk is removed from the classroom, and the children are told "There will be no speaking of Irene."

This book was used as an example of an autobiography that described a horrendous crime but was, nevertheless, believable in every detail, so I bought it. Because it is an autobiography, the reader is introduced to the author's family; her autistic brother, beautiful but bitter mother, her self-sacrificing father, and others. We all have quirky relatives so we smile and relate. I was especially moved by the way Ms. Tirone Smith accepted her brother for who he was and missed his company when they were separated. (One generation's normal is another's disfunctional.)

The author went back to discover the truth about what happened to Irene, her family, and her murderer. We are introduced early in the book to the perpetrator, but only incidentally. The book is an easy read, full of pathos. It is good Irene's short life is acknowledged this way. When the author found him, Irene's brother thought no one remembered her. No one who reads this book will ever forget her.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2006
Ms. Smith's recent Poppy Rice mysteries the victum has been a young woman. Now at the end of Ms.Smith's memoir she quotes Graham Green: 'All writing is therapy. To some extent all writers seek their craft to heal a wound in themselves, to make themselves whole.'

This memoir she opens her wound for all to see. The murder of a young schoolmate, the mental illness of the killer, of her brother, of her mother, even of the whole community that killed her schoolmate a second time by hiding it almost completely.

Ms. Smith is an accomplished author, her eight novels prove that. In this book she proves it again, and further explains just a bit as to why.

The book itself is a masterpiece. It is at the same time sad, informative, funny, tragic, and provides great insight into a life. Highly recommended.
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