Girls of Tender Age

A Memoir

Girls of Tender Age

In Girls of Tender Age, Mary-Ann Tirone Smith fully articulates with great humor and tenderness the wild jubilance of an extended French-Italian family struggling to survive in a post-World War II housing project in Hartford, Connecticut. Smith seamlessly combines a memoir whose intimacy matches that of Angela's Ashes with the tale of a community plagued by a malevolent predator that holds the emotional and cultural resonance of The Lovely Bones.

Smith's Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone’s door is unlocked and the school, church, library, drugstore, 5 & 10, grocery, and tavern are all within walking distance. Her family is peopled with memorable characters—her possibly psychic mother who's always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her adoring father who makes sure she has something to eat in the morning beyond her usual gulp of Hershey’s syrup, her grandfather who teaches her to bash in the heads of the eels they catch on Long Island Sound, Uncle Guido who makes the annual bagna cauda, and the numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love and food and endless stories of the old days. And then there’s her brother, Tyler.

Smith's household was “different.” Little Mary-Ann couldn't have friends over because her older brother, Tyler, an autistic before anyone knew what that meant, was unable to bear noise of any kind. To him, the sound of crying, laughing, phones ringing, or toilets flushing was “a cloud of barbed needles” flying into his face. Subject to such an assault, he would substitute that pain with another: he'd try to chew his arm off. Tyler was Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley, albeit one whose bookshelves sagged under the weight of the World War II books he collected and read obsessively.

Hanging over this rough-and-tumble American childhood is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953 forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.

Girls of Tender Age is one of those books that will forever change its readers because of its beauty and power and remarkable wit.
  • Free Press | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743279789 | 
  • January 2007
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Mary-Ann Tirone Smith: Girls of Tender Age

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith evokes the jubilance and chaos of her French-Italian family in post-World War II Connecticut.

Reading Group Guide

Girls of Tender Age Reading Group Guide
Written with great humor and tenderness, Girls of Tender Age combines an intimate family memoir with the tale of a community plagued by a horrifying crime. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's Hartford neighborhood is small-town America, where everyone's door is unlocked and everything is within walking distance. Her loving family is peopled with memorable characters, but Smith's household was also "different" because her older brother, Tyler, was autistic before anyone knew what that meant. Unable to bear noise of any kind, Tyler was Mary-Ann's real-life Boo Radley.
Hanging over Smith's family is the sinister shadow of an approaching serial killer. The menacing Bob Malm lurks throughout this joyous and chaotic family portrait, and the havoc he unleashes when the paths of innocence and evil cross one early December evening in 1953 forever alters the landscape of Smith's childhood.
Reading group discussion questions
1. Mary-Ann's father's role as primary caretaker is established early in her life. On page 10 she tells the story of waking up too late to see her father before he goes to work. She cries, knowing that missing him "means a day without any attention whatsoever." What is her mother's reaction to Mary-Ann's tears? How do the parents' actions throughout the book reinforce your early impressions of them? Does either of them ever change? Does the way that Mary-Ann relates to them ever change?
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Articles About This Book

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Posted on Off the Shelf

Posted by Off the Shelf Staff

Off the Shelfwas lucky enough to get a review from New York literary agent, Molly Friedrich, about a book she loves that also happens to be one she represented. “It’s true that I am Mary-Ann Tirone Smith’s literary agent, but it is also true that...

About the Author

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
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Mary-Ann Tirone Smith

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith is the author of eight novels. She has lived all her life in Connecticut, except for two years when she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon.

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