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Girls of Tender Age by Mary-ann Tirone Smith

Girls of Tender Age

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Utterly brilliant memoir of growing up in 50’s America, of a carefree, rough-and-tumble childhood until a paedophile brings fear to the neighbourhood. I cannot recommend this highly enough. The author is a crime writer and the structure of this work, revealing the facts of the crime investigation alongside her memories and the slow piecing together of the events, is masterful.

We are not the only ones who rate this, The Times are recommending it to their Book Groups for July, so get there before everyone else is talking about it first.

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Girls of Tender Age by Mary-ann Tirone Smith

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith grew up in New England during the 1950s, the daughter of an extended French-Italian family. Smith’s neighbourhood was typical small-town America – everyone’s door was left unlocked at night, and the school, church, library and grocery shop were all within walking distance. In many ways it was a typical rough-and-tumble childhood, but someone would shatter it and change Smith’s life and that of the town, forever.

Smith’s family is peopled with wonderful characters – her mother who’s always on the verge of a nervous breakdown; her adoring father who makes sure Mary-Ann has a proper breakfast every morning before school; Uncle Guido who cooks the annual Italian feast, and numerous aunts and cousins who parade through her life with love, food and endless stories of the old days. And then there’s her brother, Tyler. An autistic before anyone knew what that meant, Tyler was unable to bear noise of any kind. To him, the sound of crying, laughing or phones ringing was ‘a cloud of barbed needles’, and in order to compensate for this, he’d substitute one pain with another – he’d harm himself.

Hanging over this world is the shadow of a killer. Bob Malm lurks throughout Smith’s joyous and chaotic family portrait, until one night in December 1953 when the havoc he causes forever alters her world.

Girls of Tender Age is one of those rare books, like Angela’s Ashes or The Lovely Bones, which forever changes its readers because of its beauty, its power and remarkable wit.


‘[An] extraordinary memoir…[a] brilliant book…I became so utterly absorbed in the little lives and large tragedies of Smith’s characters that if George Clooney himself had walked into my house, I swear I’d have grumbled at him for the interruption’ Critic’s Choice, The Daily Mail

‘This is a riveting book… Ms. Tirone Smith has put all her energy as a writer of crime fiction to solve a mystery from her own past’
Paul Theroux

`This story of a joyous French-Italian American family and a horrific crime is perfectly synchronised as tragicomedy.` The Times

‘A trenchant act of literary empowerment… Repression – of pain, emotion, information – lies at the heart of Smith’s vivid memoir…Smith’s deadpan delivery and comedic timing give the narrative spark.’ New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith published her first novel, The Book of Phoebe, in 1985. Newsweek called it ‘genuinely funny, smart, and endearing,’ and William Wharton hailed her as ‘a writer of tremendous talent’. Since then seven further novels have followed, each garnering much critical acclaim.

Her memoir Girls of Tender Age was released in the U.S in January 2006 and had an extraordinary impact on readers.

Married with two children, Mary-Ann has lived all her life in Connecticut, except for the two years she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon.

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Book Info

Publication date

28th January 2008


Mary-ann Tirone Smith

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Biography / Autobiography
Reading Groups
The Real World
eBook Favourites



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