#BookReview: The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

Biographic Fiction

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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...

As with Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman, my experience of Kerri Maher’s The Kennedy Debutante was undermined by my familiarity with the subject matter and a very defined expectation regarding its fictionalization. My reading was also impacted by my admiration for Marius Gabriel’s interpretation of both Rose and Rosemary in The Ocean Liner.

Fair or not, I can only comment on my experiences and perspective so please consider context before passing judgment and proceed with the knowledge that the following contains spoilers.

Like Fowler, Maher has an eye for subject matter and I found no flaw in her writing. I think many readers will fall in love with this story, but I personally wanted more from it. I certainly understand the romanticism surrounding an American marrying into the upper echelons of British society, but I think Kick was a far more complex character than the society darling presented between these pages.

Though she pursued a very different goal, I think she was as ambitious and determined as her father before her. I think the story substituted Jack and Rosemary to bolster the narrative where Joe Jr. was the more appropriate historical counterpart and I feel very strongly that Kick’s story began the day Billy died. Maher disagrees and there is nothing wrong with that, but my tastes favor stories with more depth and heavier motifs.

My commentary is personal opinion and its only relevance is in illustrating my point of view. The Kennedy Debutante is a well-researched novel that includes details that will appeal to both family enthusiasts and those discovering the story for the first time, it simply missed my inflated mark and while I stand by my feelings, I’d have no trouble recommending this title to other readers as light biographic fiction.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 26, 2018

Wrapping her coat more tightly around her body, Kick renewed the promise she'd made in the fall of 1939: she would be here when the lights came back on. And longer, she knew now. Much longer. It would be worth whatever it cost.