About the Book
Questions for Discussion
1. In the beginning of this memoir,
young Maura Conlon knows about her heritage, her ancient
religion, her family's state of "exile" in California as the rest of her
relations live in New York City. The themes of place and roots and
belonging run throughout the book. For Maura, what provides her sense of
place, roots, and belonging and what makes her feel uprooted?
2. From an early age, Maura reads Nancy
Drew mysteries even before she can understand all the words. Soon, she's
devouring true crime novels, sewing up FBI Girl wardrobes, and
maintaining surveillance in the neighborhood with her customized log.
What is it she's after? What personal purpose might her FBI Girl
3. The FBI car becomes its own symbol
in the book, the one place where Maura and her father have their
"conversations." In what ways does the car symbolize her father's
personality and lifestyle? In what way does it symbolize the
relationship between Maura and her father?
4. Down's Syndrome is caused by a
genetic defect, an extra chromosome. In a sense, little Joey adds an
extra chromosome to the family as well. Does the addition of this "extra
chromosome" maintain, exacerbate, or completely shift the current family
5. Father Jack arrives from New York
full of life, attention, and history. We witness an evening potluck with
the neighbors. How do the spoken and silent
attitudes and styles of the two brothers, Jack, the priest, and Joe, the
special agent, complement and conflict with
6. Mary Conlon tells the story about
her days as a bathing beauty back in Jetty Point, New York in the 1940s.
We learn that the men in her family forbade her to enter the beauty
contest. But her mother waits outside with a rose for her hair
as she slips out of the bungalow, a trench coat pulled over her swimsuit.
What's being communicated by this gesture? What rebellious sense of her
femininity and zest for life survives in the pre and post Joey world?
7. As is the norm, special agent Joe
Conlon has little to say to his wife and family when he comes home from
work at night. However, he hands little Joey a present, hugs him, and
receives Joey's infamous wet, slobber kisses. How can Joe Conlon swing
from being the man so filled with thundering silence, to one who offers
uncompromising, overwhelming affection to Joey? What is it about Joey
that makes it okay for Joe Senior to be sweet and demonstrative of his
8. Just as she prepares to graduate
from eighth grade and "cross over" into the public schools, Maura, who's
ready to explode like a volcano, marches up to receive the "Most Quiet
Girl" award. How do such events become turning points in our lives? Can
you remember any similar life-changing event from your childhood?
9. Under the tutelage of her ninth
grade drama teacher, Maura escapes the shell of shyness, appears under
the floodlights, and recites her lines from the play, Twelve Angry
Women. She describes the events leading up to her theatrical debut, and
how in drama class, she learns how her voice matters. What is this voice
she speaks of? Is this something we discover alone or with the help of
guide or mentor? How is this voice related to the ghosts begging for
release as she remembers her immigrant Gramma Molly?
10. Father Ed is the priest who talks
about the importance of family communication and honest conversation.
Joe Conlon is the special agent keeping the world safe from the dark
forces. Father Ed and Joe Conlon share a Manhattan one night in the
kitchen. What would you say was Joe's opinion of Father Ed's work? How
about Father Ed's understanding of Joe and his?
11. Safety is a theme throughout FBI
Girl. While watching The FBI on television and taking nagging questions
from Maura, Joe Conlon warns, "Avoiding dangerous places is one way to
place it smart." At the book's beginning, Maura craves safety from the
villains and the protection of her father. As the story evolves, how
does this notion of safety change? What are the dangerous places of
which Joe Conlon speaks? What kind of security is Maura seeking? What
does it mean to find "security' in your own life?
12. The story begins and closes on the
ball field. If you were to write a memoir or tell a story about your
relationship with your father, what setting might best suit you for the
story's beginning and ending? Why?
13. If Joe Jr. were to write in his own words of his relationship with his father, Joe Sr., how would it start? What would Joe Jr.'s review be of the FBI Girl? For me what held Maura's story together was Joe Jr.'s love for his family especially his father, and I think the driving lessons at St. Bede's says it the best. ---From K. Seed.
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Here are a few of my favorite books.
Sister Carrie, by Theodore
Dreiser. Set in America's great industrial age, this novel follows one
young woman's escape from her lower-class small town to achieve the
American Dream. Carrie's ambitious rise in Chicago comes with a price,
namely in the relationships she establishes along the way. We find in
Dreiser's novel a cascade of human emotions, good and evil, rawness and
sensuality, love and loss, and the ultimate longing for a return to
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper
Lee. This classic story deals with a young daughter's coming of age in a
small town as she learns the lessons of decency, tolerance, patience,
and respect from her single-parent father. The story is replete with
colorful characters and plot twists that continue to unfold as one
small-town lawyer battles racism in the South.
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens,
by Alice Walker. In this collection of powerful essays, Walker explores
what it means to be a "womanist." Her sharp prose gives voice to the
silenced as she remembers those who've gone before. Walker writes of
"diving through politics and social forecasts to dig into the essential
spirit of individual persons."
The House on Mango Street, by
Sandra Cisneros. After reading this colorful novel, we all feel as if
we've grown up on Mango Street. For many, the street -- city, town, or
suburban -- was our introduction to the world, the place where our dreams
take root. Cisneros evokes here a multi-sensory childhood with universal
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood
Anderson. Written with a deft, poetic swiftness and lyrical simplicity,
this mesmerizing collection of short stories probes the idiosyncratic
nuances of ordinary people in a small, Midwest town. Anderson examines
his characters' outer and inner lives with a tall slant. I especially
love his weaving wordplay with "hands" where "being touched" takes on
Passion of the Western Mind, by
Richard Tarnas. This is an impassioned intellectual history whose ending
taunts with beautiful hope. A must read.
2004 Maura Conlon-McIvor