Girls of Tender Age by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is a memoir originally published 2006. My hardcover copy is 287 pages long. Although it is entertaining, it is also troubling. This memoir is broken into 5 parts, with the first part, Mortality, being the longest. While reminiscing about growing up in the 50's and her family back ground, she also discusses where the man who would murder one of her classmates was during the same time. An essential role in her family story is her autistic brother, who will bite his wrists bloody over loud noises and a distant mother. At the end of the first part, Smith is in 5th grade and her classmate is murdered. The children are told to not speak of it at home and school. Part two, Brain Jog, deals with the recovery of Smith's repressed memories from two years after the murder. Part three is called The Quest and covers when Smith finally finds out what happened to her murdered classmate all those years ago. Part 4, What Goes Around, and five, The Future is Now, deal with the death of her parents and her brother. I recommend Girls of Tender Age and I will be looking into the other fiction books Mary-Ann Tirone Smith has written.
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.
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"This is the chronic response to crisis in my family. First, there can be no cry. That is because of Tyler [autistic brother who can not stand noise]...The second response... follows immediately upon the heels of the first; my mother assigns blame... Until I am in the first grade I have no idea that when you are hurt, some people have the urge to hug and comfort you."
"I find that today's weddings aren't the wild fun they used to be because no one is racing around the dance floor. polka-ing and shouting hoop-eye, shoop-eye at the top of their lings."
"[T]here is no room for all the hostesses on the stage, so they face the audience in a long line in front of the stage. In front of me. They each hold flashlights inside of toilet paper rolls painted red to look like Christmas candles. Illuminated from below, their faces are ghoul-like, their nostrils appearing like black walnuts. This means that many of the kindergartners sitting up front on the floor have to be taken out, traumatized."
"This was much better than the time my second grade class made candleholders for Mother's Day out of empty Wisk bottles. My mother opened her gift and said...what the hell are those teachers thinking? Then she threw it in the wastebasket."