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(Correction: Because of a reporting error, a capsule review in Sunday's Books section of ''Girls of Tender Age" at one point characterizes the story as crime fiction. The writer meant to suggest the book, which is a memoir, reads as well as fiction.)

Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir
By Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
Free Press, 288 pp., illustrated, $24

''Denial is my family's religion, my brother Tyler, our god, and the Reverend Dr. Peale our pastor," reports Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, attempting to describe her own childhood confusion. Growing up in the 1950s in a working-class Italian-Catholic family in Hartford, she is trained in silence, obedience, piety.

Silence is enforced in the household because noise of any kind sends older brother Tyler, suffering from a then-unnamed disorder (autism), into paroxysms of rage and self-destruction. Despite innumerable rules and constraints, Smith finds much joy in her extended family and their rituals: celebratory meals, summers at the shore, stories and songs. Then, when she is in fifth grade, one of her classmates is murdered just a few houses away from her own. The murder of an 11-year-old girl, who is discovered strangled and without her panties, is too scandalous to be spoken of. No one offers Smith an explanation, counseling, or comfort. She is left alone to make sense of the event. She represses it along with a chunk of her childhood.

This beautiful memoir succeeds not only in recovering the author's past, but also in uncovering and ordering the few sordid facts of the crime and creating a narrative where one was not allowed to exist. As an additional reward, the tale is its own riveting and suspenseful piece of crime fiction.

The Thin Place
By Kathryn Davis
Little, Brown, 277 pp., $23.95

In Varennes, a small town in upstate New York, miracles abound. A man found cold and dead on a beach is revived by a young girl. A chocolate Lab, the sweetest of dogs, is shot dead killing chickens, but hours later his gunshot wound is healed. A lavender-dyed chick ready to be thrown in the garbage suddenly opens its eyes, fluffs up its feathers, and cheeps. Between the living and the dead, as between human and animal, and animal and plant, distinctions are blurred. The human point of view is shared by dogs, cats, and even plants. ''In terms of its consciousness, corn isn't particularly evolved, endlessly preening itself for having once been used as legal tender. . . . Like most feed crops it's fascist at heart."

The many characters, including three closely linked little girls, are secondary to the larger theme of connection sketched by Kathryn Davis. This is a deeply religious book in its way. The natural world is full of wonder and terror. Human beings squander the abundant resources at their disposal and treat other human beings as if they were not human. The last scene of the novel takes place in church on Pentecost, the holiday that celebrates the story ''about what made a human life not just meat but something better, something capable of not just eating or being eaten. And it was also a story about what it took for a human being not to see other human beings as meat." During the Pentecost service, when an unknown man takes a local woman hostage, holding a knife to her throat, another woman in the congregation responds instinctively, sinking ''her teeth into the tender flesh of the calf of the man" and stabbing him in the heart. In this situation man is just meat.

You're Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in ConversationBy Deborah Tannen
Random House, 272 pp., $24.95

There is very little news here. Still, it is helpful to hear again how fraught the relationship between mothers and grown daughters is. Daughters feel criticized by mothers and thus pull away. Mothers feel everything they say is interpreted as criticism and rendered harmful rather than helpful. They feel shut out. The big three areas of criticism are hair, weight, and clothes.

The pattern, according to Deborah Tannen, goes like this: Daughters wishing to connect to their mothers reveal personal, often troubling information. Mothers wishing to protect their daughters offer advice. Daughters, believing their mothers have expressed disapproval, then retreat, filled with regret for having initiated the conversation. Mothers feel bewildered and hurt. Why does this continue to matter so much? Because mothers are the mirror daughters see themselves in, as children and as adults. A mother's judgment, positive or negative, remains forever, even after her death. Daughters desire intimacy but also desire independence. The two seem almost impossible to reconcile.

Tannen describes this pattern over and over again with slight variation. Were I her mother, I would suggest that she might have considered submitting this work as a magazine article rather than a full-length book. And also, I would ask, did you choose the picture for the jacket?

Barbara Fisher is a freelance critic who lives in New York.

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