What People Are Saying
Letter from J. Edgar Hoover
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"I lie in bed at night with my yellow daisy sheets up to my nose, and Dad comes into my bedroom to snap shut my window. He does not explain why he locks everything up, but I have figured it out: The world is full of criminals, and it is the job of my father, Special Agent Joe Conlon, to keep them out of our house."

In a house teeming with life, young Maura, voted the Most Quiet Girl in Catholic school, notices everything but says little. Eager to penetrate the secret world of her father, FBI agent Joe Conlon, she is drawn to the bureau drawer where he places his badge at night.

The time is the late 1960s, and Vietnam and the Cold War are fomenting unrest outside Maura's suburban Los Angeles home. Inside, the Conlons and their five children are still bound by tradition: baseball games, Sunday dinner of roast beef and mashed potatoes, and The FBI on TV. Under the watchful gaze of J. Edgar Hoover's picture, Maura's mother, a former New York bathing beauty, remains a homemaker even as she slips out for assertiveness training.

And there's the one unshakable rule of all: Joe Conlon never talks about his job. In fact, he rarely speaks at all. Believing that he communicates in code, Maura is determined to crack it. She uses clues gleaned from Nancy Drew mysteries, eavesdrops on adult conversations, and spins larger-than-life fantasies in her head, with her Down's syndrome brother at her side.

But her flights of fancy turn sober with a murder in the family. Suddenly her father's silence speaks volumes, and she learns a lesson from him about fierce love during a time of devastating loss.

Bathed in luminous nostalgia, resonating with hilarious and painful memories, FBI Girl is the coming-of-age story of a highly imaginative girl and a passionate homage to family bonds, the trials that test them, and the triumphs that make them stronger.

What People Are Saying

FBI Girl by Maura Conlon-McIvor is one of three debut books featured in the "Readers' Prize 2004" section in the August issue of ELLE MAGAZINE. Following is a quote:

"With a style that cleverly matures as the writer recounts her childhood, this book is a delightful and compelling read that delicately depicts a loving, if strained, relationship between an imaginative, slightly kooky daughter and the by-the-book father she idolizes. Conlon-McIvor successfully reanimates a shelf-worn topic and crafts a book exploring the dynamics of an emotionally and physically absent father."

On the surface, the Conlons are an unremarkable 1960s Irish-American family: Dad is an avid baseball fan; Mom stays home with the five kids and does volunteer work for their L.A. church; uncles on both sides are priests. But, as the author details in this penetrating look at her youth, there's a more complex story behind the snapshots that anchor each chapter. Like her heroine, Nancy Drew, Maura gathers clues in hopes of solving the mystery of her father -- a caring yet withdrawn man who happens to be an FBI special agent. Unable to sustain a direct conversation, he speaks in code that "forces you to think of the real meaning behind his words," she writes. Though outsiders often treat the existence of baby brother Joe Jr., who has Down syndrome, as a shameful misfortune, the boy's loving spirit is the glue that holds the Conlons together, especially after the murder of a relative prompts Dad to retreat further. A refreshing antidote to memoirs about childhood trauma, FBI Girl employs sharp observation and poetic imagery to create a coming-of-age story that is at once universal and deeply individual.

Library Journal:
Conlon-McIvor writes lovingly of her childhood in Southern California as the second of five children of Hoover-era FBI agent Joe Conlon and his homemaker wife, Mary. The author's father clearly held center stage in her childhood, while her youngest brother, a Down syndrome child, was the heart of the family. Conlon-McIvor spent years keeping her own FBI log, trying desperately to glean information-any information-from her silent father. As she got older, she came to see that his quiet nature was not just the requisite FBI-agent reticence but part of his true personality. This realization, coupled with support from her mother, helped her overcome her own painful shyness. Sadly, the author relates that a loved one of the Conlon family was murdered, but she does not make the heartbreaking details the focus of her book. Readers will enjoy this journey through Conlon-McIvor's Irish American, Catholic-school childhood. An endearing, truthful, and joyful account of coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s; highly recommended. --Karen Sandlin Silverman, Center for Applied Research

Growing up Catholic in the 1960s, Conlon-McIvor’s favorite religious figure was the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her favorite book character was Nancy Drew. Mysteries fascinated her, and no wonder; her father was an FBI agent, whose car trunk was filled with bullets. Her dream was to follow his path and crack “the code?that made his every glance and word so deliciously baffling. It took many years before Conlon-McIvor understood that her father’s taciturn, moody behavior had little to do with his job; it grew from deep sadness and an inability to express emotion. In this touchingly honest memoir, always true to a child’s point of view, the author remakes herself as the naive child and awkward teen she was, growing up in a family mostly held together by commitment to her youngest brother, born with Down syndrome. Memories of her long-suffering mother, her beloved uncle Father Jack, and, most of all, her father, whose “code?she finally cracks, blend beautifully in this occasionally funny, affecting account of family ties and personal growth. ––Booklist

Publisher's Weekly:
Conlon-McIvor was a Hoover-era FBI agent’s daughter, and her diverting memoir tells her story
from birth to adolescence while depicting her father as a man so taciturn that she became
convinced his every word was code for something else. As a kid, determined to decipher his
character and the other silences around her, the author cast herself in an ongoing dream life as
a Nancy Drew–type agent. This made her somewhat withdrawn and silent herself, and at her
Catholic school she became known as the shy girl. At home her mother and siblings livened
things up, even though the condition of Joey, the youngest, born with Down’s syndrome,
made her father even more remote. Other relatives in the extended Irish-American family,
especially Maura’s New York uncle Father Jack, provided a sense of a larger world in a home
where the picture of J. Edgar Hoover frowned down from the wall. When tragedy struck,
playing at secret agent didn’t help as it used to, and Conlon-McIvor finally grew into herself.
She conveys her time (the 1960s) and setting (Los Angeles) with precision and detail; her feel
for story, structure and understatement rightfully earns the poignancy of many moments.

"FBI Girl is a gorgeous, sumptuous book. Conlon-McIvor takes a subject (herself and her family) that might have sunk in other hands, beats egg white under her words and the whole thing rises like a dream. It's a love story for her people and for a time and place. Read it."
--Alexandra Fuller, author of New York Times bestseller Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

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"Beguiling . . . Few memoirs in recent memory offer such wit, poignancy, and pleasure."
--Karen Karbo, author of three novels, each a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and the nonfiction books The Stuff of Life (a memoir) and Generation Ex: Tales from the Second Wives Club. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, the New Republic, and the New York Times, among other publications

"FBI Girl is touching and funny, inspiring and tragic, enlightening and sad. I closed the book with tears in my eyes and admiration in my heart for the girl Maura Conlon was and the writer she became."
--Beverly Donofrio, author of cult classic Riding in Cars with Boys, and Looking for Mary

"The beauty of the enthralling FBI Girl is that it speaks to the universal themes of love and dignity, and the healing power that comes from the heart. While memoirs, by nature, are about one person, the best teach us something about ourselves. Maura Conlon-McIvor does that with a great deal of poignancy, a dose of humor, and moments of real heartbreak. This is a book to treasure."
--Tom Hallman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Sam: The Boy Behind the Mask

"Oh, I love this book. It offers us a bygone Los Angeles, Catholic School, the FBI -- all woven into a funny, moving, beautifully rendered account of a girl coming to know her father."
--Mike Rose, author of Lives on the Boundary and The Mind at Work

"An unusual achievement. Joe, Joey, and young Maura Conlon evolve, page by page, heartbeat by heartbeat in this most notable work."
--Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

"A pitch-perfect rendering of the mysteries of parents played to the audience of their young children. Conlon-McIvor achieves something special."
--Frances Kuffel, author of Passing for Thin

"FBI Girl gets the details just right to sweetly evoke an earlier era. Maura Conlon-McIvor lovingly shows how a child with a disability can reveal a family's unspoken capacity for love."
--Joseph P. Shapiro, author, No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement

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Published by Warner Books
August 2004 | Memoir | 320 pages
Hardcover | $23.00US | ISBN: 0-446-53310-6





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Maura Conlon-McIvor
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FBI Girl
How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code
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