The Kennedy Debutante – by Kerri Maher – independent book review – Historical Fiction (United States)

This book was less interesting than I had hoped. Awarded three stars on Goodreads, though perhaps 3.5 stars is a bit closer to the mark. This one has a slow start but does become more interesting toward the end.

kennedydebI admit up front that I’ve been interested in the Kennedy Family saga over the years — with its veneer of power and prestige and that dark underbelly of ruthlessness, infidelity, and tragic death. And I already knew quite a bit about the tragic story of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy (the outgoing and lively sister of John, Robert, and Edward) who married the heir apparent to England’s fabulously wealthy Duke of Devonshire. So when I saw this novel was all about Kick, I felt compelled to pick it up.

The book covers the years between 1938 and 1944. It begins when Kick’s father, Joe Sr., is named U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, which prompts the entire family to move to London. It includes Hitler and the growing threat of war, along with the Ambassador’s commitment to appeasement (which ultimately sunk his personal political aspirations). But most of the attention goes to Kick’s budding romance with William Cavendish aka “Billy” Hartington and the fact that Kick, a devout Catholic, isn’t supposed to fall for someone who is a member of one of the most prominently Protestant families in Britain.

After the war begins, Billy enlists and Kick returns to the States where she struggles to become a journalist. Of course, her heart remains with Billy and she finally engineers a return to London, where the two reconnect. Despite persistent opposition from her entire family, and especially from her formidable mother Rose, Kick wants Billy. So they have lots of discussions about whether Kick might convert, how they might handle the religious upbringing of their future children, and, ultimately, whether Kick is willing to risk going to hell to marry the man she loves.

Billy Hartington and Kick Kennedy (center front) 1944

It turned out that this religious soul-searching was one of the most compelling parts of the book for me. It was an intimate look at how her Catholic upbringing was so powerfully ingrained that it truly dominated Kick’s most important life decisions. Having not had that kind of religious training myself, I did get to understand why this was such a difficult moment in Kick’s life.

Several of Kick’s other siblings come in and out of the narrative. There’s Joe Jr. and his competitiveness with younger brother John’s heroic naval exploits. There are references to the romantic escapades of both young men, who, like their father, have lots of affairs — while the double standard of the day keeps Kick a virgin. And there is the very sad story of Rosemary, since this is also the period when her father made the disastrous decision to order her lobotomy.

So, lots of drama, right? Unfortunately, I found too many passages downright dull. Full of partying and superficial relationships amid rich and privileged Brits. I also felt that the book ended abruptly. I won’t provide details in case you don’t know Kick’s full story. But I finished the book feeling less than satisfied. I wanted the author to finish Kick’s story.

Author Kerri Maher

So, bottom line, if you’re interested in the Kennedys, you may find this interesting. If you’re not, move on.

More about the author, Kerri Maher. This is her debut novel.