In Mary-Ann Tirone Smith’s memoir, Girls Of Tender Age, she completes the cycle of a childhood tragedy while telling the origins of her Canadian/Italian family and her years growing up in a housing project in Connecticut. As the author of eights novels including An American Killing, The Book Of Phoebe, The Port Of Missing Men and Love Her Madly, she has used bits and pieces of her life to develop characters. In this work of nonfiction, she not only tells her own story of growing up but also interweaves it with a serial killer (although back in the 1950s, no one called them serial killers yet) named Bob Malm.
Mary-Ann starts with her origins, and she does the same with Bob; how he was adopted, how he went into the Navy, and how he never could suppress the urge to molest and kill young girls. Amazingly, Bob would have several altercations – near misses if you like – where he was caught prior to maiming or molesting, and he basically got a slap on the wrist. When the local police had enough of him, to his last assault they added a robbery charge just to make sure this guy went to jail, and he did for five years.
This is where the book shifts. Bob eventually found his way into Mary-Ann’s neighborhood and killed one of her classmates. For this part of the book, there is a buildup, the climax, and then the aftermath of the murder. The killing profoundly affected Mary-Ann. Back in the 1950s, stuff like this was swept under the rug and not talked about. Mary-Ann wouldn’t even be allowed to read the newspaper reports.
The books shifts again as Mary-Ann goes on to explain the inspiration for some of her novels and the genesis for writing this book. She finally gets to go through the old newspaper articles and get the history of Bob Malm, ultimately coming to grips with this part of her history. Though I thought there would be a more direct connection between Bob Malm’s actions and Mary-Ann, Girls Of Tender Age is a great retelling of those times and the crime. Overall, it is a good, solid memoir that is thought-provoking and eye-opening without the “woe-is-me” card being played.