"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
"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."
"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
"I read Tirone Smith's memoir with my heart in my mouth. What starts as an evocation of a lost time immigrant lives in 1950s Hartford takes a dark turn when a killer walks into this world. Visceral, sharp-edged, beautifully nuanced, Girls of Tender Age is the real deal."
Alison Smith, author of Name All the Animals
"Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is an adept literary juggler. She creates a tour de force in Girls of Tender Age by combining a coming-of-age story with a heinous crime that shapes her life. In addition, we get a visceral sense of the Connecticut she grew up in and a fascinating look at her family's struggle with an autistic sibling. I could not put this book down until I had turned every page."
Jane Stern, author of Ambulance Girl
"Nostalgia collides with horror in Girls of Tender Age, and the effect is once warm and unsettling. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's voice is wry and elegiac, and her memoir is utterly absorbing."
Stewart O'Nan, author of Wish You Were Here
"When you read Girls of Tender Age, you will realize that this could be the best family memoir you have ever read. Smith is more than a masterful writer. We are carried along on a wondrous peregrination among bookies, catatonics, crazy relatives hiding in the coal bin or plopped under a wedding table a veritable whirl of family dysfunction presented by an artful and very functional storyteller. I loved reading this book."
Dennis Smith, author of Report from Ground Zero and San Francisco Is Burning
Smith's memoir is her attempt at catharsis, 50 years later. Like a sleuth from one of her own Poppy Rice mystery novels, she tracks down the microfilm version of The Hartford Courant, orders copies of her friend's autopsy report and studies the transcripts of Malm's trial. The result is a trenchant act of literary empowerment. It is also a character study, a look at one writer's formation: Smith's fans will learn how her life informs her fiction.
The New York Times
Smith claims that in writing this book she hoped to "build a memorial to Irene." In fact, she has built a memorial to her brother, to her childhood and to the truth. 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.
The Washington Post
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) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Smith, author of the Poppy Rice series of mystery books (She's Not There), grew up in 1950s Hartford, CT, a place where people don't lock their doors. She had an autistic older brother and a mother perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her story, a distinctly unsentimental view of life in a post-World War II working-class family, is interspersed with the story of Bob Malm, a serial pedophile who brutally murdered a fifth-grade classmate of hers in December 1953. The neighborhood children were forbidden to discuss this girl, Irene, who disappeared from their lives as if she had simply never existed; Smith literally forgot an entire year and a half of her own existence. Then an essay she wrote for the literary magazine of the Hartford Courant jogged her memory, prompting her to follow up on the trial and the murderer, reclaiming her lost time. The chapters on Malm cast a sinister shadow over other parts of the book, accentuating Smith's own lack of control over her odd upbringing. But the peace she finds in reconnecting with this local tragedy spills over into the rest of her life. This poignant memoir belongs in all collections.-Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Smith (Love Her Madly, 2002, etc.) intertwines delightful stories from childhood with a grim chronicle of a sexual predator whose murder of the author's grade-school classmate has haunted her for decades. By alternating chapters on the pedophile stalker's sorry life with chapters on her youthful past, Smith creates almost unbearable tension as she makes the reader wait for the two stories' lines to intersect. Her vivid account of growing up in a working-class Italian Catholic neighborhood in Hartford, Conn., is filled with memorable characters: besides a raft of close relatives, there's her indifferent mother, perpetually "on the verge of a nervous breakdown," her hardworking, distracted father and her autistic older brother, who chews on his arm if he hears noise, cannot bear the color red or the word "Thursday" and is fixated on World War II-he advises the White House via his Campbell's soup-can phone. As the normal kid sister, Smith is largely overlooked, gulping swigs of Hershey syrup for her breakfast before dashing off to school. In fifth grade, everything changes when Bob Malm abducts and strangles 11-year-old Irene a few blocks from Smith's house. Adults try to protect the children through silence, telling them nothing, keeping newspapers from them and forbidding them to discuss Irene. Smith says her memories of the next two-and-a-half years are blank. Years later, when she is an established writer, she includes Irene's story in an essay for a Hartford literary journal that triggers a call from Irene's brother and launches her on a quest to, as she puts it, "build a memorial to Irene." From newspapers and court records, which she quotes extensively, she garners details of Malm'slife, of his trial and appeal and even his execution, an electrocution that went awry. The reader may not know Irene better, but Smith, who gives only glimpses of her own life after fifth grade, illuminates Malm. The childhood memories are great fun; the crime reporting workmanlike; the portrait of the adult relationships touching. Agent: Molly Friedrich/Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency