ADDRESSES: Home—Portland, OR. Office—P.O. Box 10412, Portland, OR 97296-0412. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Worked as a freelance journalist and in the film industry; New Yorker, New York, NY, editor.
FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Maura Conlon-McIvor says on her Web site that she began sketching her coming-of-age memoir, FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code, "around the time my father proudly gave me all his correspondence received from bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover." The author's father worked as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Los Angeles area during her childhood. "When I sat down and read his stash of letters," she explained, "I found scribbled all over them his wry observations about being in the FBI, or his reflections about life in general. This gift was typical of what he and I had shared all our lives—communication wrapped in code. It was always my job to read between the lines and uncover the real meaning."
Conlon-McIvor grew up in Los Angeles, in an Irish Catholic family. Her mother was a homemaker, busy raising five children and doing volunteer work for their church. Her father, Special Agent Joseph Conlon, like many fathers of the time, was caring but withdrawn, he perhaps even more because of his work. As a child, Maura copied her taciturn father, wearing special clothes, keeping a secret notebook, and honoring the picture of J. Edgar Hoover hanging on the wall as much as she did the statues of Jesus and Mary that were placed about the house. Whenever Conlon-McIvor's mother acknowledged that her husband could be difficult, the young girl would reply, "'it comes from fighting crime all day. It must be tough.' Or maybe," suggested Robin Antepara in Commonweal, as "the adult Maura suggests, her father's malaise is a result of the immense energy it takes to not only split the world into good and bad but to maintain that split. It's no surprise that J. Edgar would applaud such an endeavor, but so would the Catholic Church, if the public school 'devils' Maura is warned about are any indication." While Conlon-McIvor's text reflects the stringent moral absolutism of both the Irish Catholic Church and the federal agency, FBI Girl "paints a more complex picture where the church is concerned."
Conlon-McIvor's brother Joey, who has Down syndrome, held the Conlon family together, and kept them afloat after Conlon's uncle, Father Jack, was killed in the rectory of his Queens church. Antepara noted that "a big part of Conlon-McIvor's journey is moving away from her identification with the power monoliths of the story and into the role of protector … for Joey and others like him. In the process, she opens her mind and heart to those dangerous Others." It took years for Conlon-McIvor to crack the code to her father's silence: she ultimately realized that it was not a result of his working for the FBI, but rather was his inability to express emotion.
People contributor Bella Stander wrote that FBI Girl "employs sharp observation and poetic imagery to create a coming-of-age story that is at once universal and deeply individual." Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin called the memoir an "occasionally funny, affecting account of family ties and personal growth."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Conlon-McIvor, Maura, FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Booklist, July, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of FBI Girl, p. 1805.
Commonweal, October 22, 2004, Robin Antepara, review of FBI Girl, p. 30.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2004, review of FBI Girl, p. 524.
Library Journal, June 15, 2004, Karen Sandlin Silverman, review of FBI Girl, p. 78.
People, August 23, 2004, Bella Stander, review of FBI Girl, p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, July 5, 2004, review of FBI Girl, p. 50.
Emigrant Online, http://www.emigrant.ie/ (March 7, 2005), review of FBI Girl..
Maura Conlon-McIvor Home Page, http://www.fbigirl.com (March 7, 2005).