Happy Thursday, 2.0!
Today, we're also reviewing Kick: The True Story of JFK's Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth by Belle/The Real Jane Austen author Paula Byrne.
While I went into Kick knowing exactly how the story would end, Byrne sketched out Kick so vividly, I still ended the book feeling like I had lost a long-time friend.
This is a great, thorough look into a not-often discussed member of the Kennedy family, and should absolutely be on your list as you kick-off summer reading!
Expected publication: July 5th 2016 by Harper
Format read: E-ARC via Publisher
Moving across the Atlantic when her father was appointed as Ambassador to Great Britain in 1938, Kick—the “nicest Kennedy”—quickly became the family’s star. Despite making little effort to fit into British high society, she charmed everyone from the beau monde to Fleet Street with her unconventional attitude and easygoing humor. Growing increasingly independent, Kick would also shock and alienate her devout family by falling in love and marrying the scion of a virulently anti-Catholic family—William Cavendish, the heir-apparent of the Duke of Devonshire and Chatsworth. But the marriage would last only a few months; Billy was killed in combat in 1944, just four years before Kick’s own unexpected death in an airplane crash at twenty-eight.
Paula Byrne recounts this remarkable young woman’s life in detail as never before, from her work at the Washington Times-Herald and volunteerism for the Red Cross in wartime England, to her love of politics and astute, opinionated observations to her decision to renounce her faith for the man she loved. Sympathetic and compelling, Kick shines a spotlight on this feisty and unique Kennedy long relegated to the shadows of her legendary family’s history.
But while I was well-acquainted with the larger-than-life members of the clan, e.g. JFK, John Kennedy Jr., and Ted Kennedy - it wasn't until reading a biography about The Mitford family, that I realized that there had been a Kennedy sister, who had shone very much in her own right.
So when I was given the opportunity to read Kick by Paula Byrne, I jumped at the chance. I was acquainted with Byrne's books about Belle and Jane Austen, and thought if there was one person who could do Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy justice, it would be her. I was right.
Byrne begins Kick's biography by recounting how the Kennedy family came to be, including background on Rose and Joe Kennedy, and how the family seemed to be destined to be an unusually tight-knit, stand-out unit from the start. Through effective use of the family's diaries, Byrne progresses onto Kick's life, sharing how it's through that unusual family background, that she began to develop the personality and wit that would eventually define her.
However, it's Kick's romance with William Cavendish, where the book really shines. After a relatively painless transition to the highest echelons of English society during WWII, Byrne brilliantly depicts Kick's struggles to reconcile her staunch, Catholic family with William's non-Catholic upbringing. Readers can jointly feel Kick's frustration at not immediately being able to find a loophole for her romance, juxtaposed with an almost overly- optimistic determination to see the relationship through.
Byrne makes a compelling case for Kick being willing to give up everything for a potentially doomed romance, including drawing lines between both the mental strength shown by her brothers, and a reminder that the headstrong actions are actually a learned behavior from the family itself.
All in all, Kick's life, love and legacy are a great look into not only America's most renowned family, but an intimate look into the greatest generation.
Byrne has the difficult task of balancing the weight of the Kennedy legacy, while also making sure Kick stands out in her own right. It's handled brilliantly - we see how Kick's ebullient personality and intellectual curiosity were formed through the influence of her family, but it's also through the strength of her family that Kick was able to make her way into the world on her own.
Though readers will likely go into the book knowing how Kick's story ends, Byrne's writing brings Kick to life so vividly, readers will still feel as though they've lost a friend by the end. Readers will undoubtedly also wonder at how Kick's loss influenced JFK and RFK's eventual legacies, with Byrne concluding with some thoughtful nods toward those respects.
Bottom line: A moving look at Kathleen Kennedy's life and legacy. Highly recommend for all fans of non-fiction.