Book cover: The Kennedy Debutante

Lovely and enlightening but a little thin. Four stars for this compassionate historical portrait.

“A captivating novel following the exploits of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, the forgotten and rebellious daughter of one of America’s greatest political dynasties.”

“London, 1938. The effervescent “It girl” of London society since her father was named the ambassador, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy moves in rarified circles, rubbing satin-covered elbows with some of the 20th century’s most powerful figures. Eager to escape the watchful eye of her strict mother, Rose, the antics of her older brothers, Jack and Joe, and the erratic behavior of her sister Rosemary, Kick is ready to strike out on her own and is soon swept off her feet by Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire.

But their love is forbidden, as Kick’s devout Catholic family and Billy’s staunchly Protestant one would never approve their match. When war breaks like a tidal wave across her world, Billy is ripped from her arms as the Kennedys are forced to return to the States. Kick gets work as a journalist and joins the Red Cross to get back to England, where she will have to decide where her true loyalties lie—with family or with love . . .”

This was a treat for my Downton Abbey stan self. The audiobook wisked me away to a fragile world of pearls and gloves and politics that didn’t know it was teetering on the edge of chaos. Lovely, clear prose and amusing characters–a sweet Sunday afternoon read.

*swoon*

While the book trades on the Kennedy name for recognition and context, it’s about one of the least-known members of the American political dynasty, lovely daughter Kick, who I may never have even hears of going in.

A book that fictionalizes a little-known real person has one essential duty: to prove that this person is worth telling a story about. In my opinion, to be worthwhile, this book had to demonstrate that the details of Kick’s young adult life are interesting and dramatic on their own, not just as a piece of the Kennedy puzzle.

There were times I felt the book wasn’t doing that. Kick comes across as likeable enough, but not exactly fascinating. I struggled to see what her perspective on the era and the world shows us that other people wouldn’t show better. What’s the unique narrative value of these events? Is Kick interesting, or just her circumstances?

At other times, it seemed like that was the whole point. No, Kick’s life story wasn’t flashy or exceptional. She is remembered by history only for proximity to better-known men. But that doesn’t mean her story isn’t worth telling. Just because her fears and conflicts and dreams seem petty in comparison to global war doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Her love for Billy, for England, for her family, for God, are still worth remembering. Even though Kick only saw a tiny glimpse of the world, it can still be valuable to try to see through her eyes for a few hours.

I was startled to realize, halfway through the book, that nobody had brought up the Great Depression yet. If there’s a mention of it in the entire book, I missed it. Of course, most people weren’t using that term at the time, but they certianly were aware that most of the United States and much of Britain were struggling through a record-shattering economic slump while the Kennedys sipped champagne.

I suppose the take-away is that Kick, for all her altruism, lives in such a bubble that she isn’t even fully aware of how most of her countrymen live… but I wish Maher could have found a way to at least bring it up. It’s an important facet of her character, this shocking ignorance, and a mention of the world Kick isn’t seeing would have been enlightening.

That, for me, is what this books is missing: a counterpoint. This seemed like a story that was begging to be set against something. We could have had Kick’s silk-clad dramatic swooning juxtaposed with Billy’s actul experience of war, or Kick’s ideas contrasted with reality… really anything that would assuage the feeling that this is only half of a story, waiting desperately for the midway twist.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: THE KENNEDY DEBUTANTE by Kerri Maher”

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