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The Kennedy Debutante

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Member Reviews

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.
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Despite her Irish roots, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, of that Catholic clan, captivates London with her wicked wit and considerable charms. As war looms, she falls for Billy Harrington, a staunch Protestant and future Duke of Devonshire, and Kick must choose between her faith—and family—and her heart. A riveting true tale of forbidden love.
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The Kennedy's  are always interesting reads.  Much can be  learned about history long after the fact by novels such as this.  Kick Kennedy was quite amazing.
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On the brink of WWII, Joe Kennedy Sr. was appointed ambassador and moved his family to London. This book focuses on Kathleen (Kick), the fourth daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy. While Kick enjoyed the debutante scene, she was also rebellious in nature, and fell in love with a man, Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire, who her parents felt was an unacceptable match due to the difference in religion (Kick was Catholic, Billy was Protestant).

The first half of the book moved a little slow for me, but the second half was more interesting. Kick led an all too short and tragic life. I enjoyed the writing style of this book, and will certainly pick up the author’s next book
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I included this book in a feature on my blog about what to read in October. I will send further thoughts and more to the publisher in a private note when I send in my opinions during the next stage.
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I really enjoyed this book. As someone who has always enjoyed the allure of the Kennedy's, but never knew too much of the "lesser known" Kennedy siblings, this novel was incredibly interesting. This novel focuses on Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. Kick struggles between her staunch Catholic upbringing and forbidden love in this novel.  I was totally encapsulated in her struggle between family, faith and love.  Much of this book focuses on her relationship with Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire and a devout Protestant.  At times, it was hard for me to believe how highly protested this relationship was from both families.  As a lover of historical fiction, and especially the WWII era, this was any easy choice and a read I will certainly recommend to others who enjoy the Kennedy's, historical fiction and/or the WWII era.
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I would not say I am a Kennedy aficionado but I thought this book sounded interesting.  It combines history, a forbidden romance due to differences in religion, and WWII.  While I understand that this is fiction, it is based on some facts and truth.  I learned more about this iconic family and the struggles they faced in life.  Kick is a strong woman but because of the era does fall prey to following her parent's edicts.  She is not happy about most of them and tries to become more independent, they are just not having any of it especially being in Europe and the tensions between the countries and the brewing war.

I did feel like this book was a bit long and there were many times where I skimmed a lot of the material.  The book moved slowly in the beginning, picked up the pace, slowed down again, and picked up the pace.  The book really grabbed my attention about the last third of the book. I think the pace of the story and what Kick was dealing with moved along smoothly.  I would have liked to have seen a more consistent pace with the events and dialogue.

I did learn about Kick and the author's notes at the end were interesting as she described her research.  Apparently it wasn't easy finding information about Kick's life.  I like how she started the acknowledgements and said she was going to save us time and we wouldn't have to Google Kick, here is what happened to her once the story ended.  I didn't realize she had died so young.

We give this 4 paws and felt it was a different look into a member of the iconic Kennedy family but one that is not as well known.
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The Kennedy Debutante is a historical fiction novel based on the brief life of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the fourth child of Joe and Rose Kennedy and one of the less written about Kennedys.  The story starts in her debutante season, while her father is the US Ambassador to England and the Kennedys are living in London.  Kick finds a close circle of friend and her true love, Billy, and falls in love with the city.  But then World War 2 begins, and the Kennedys escape back to the US, forcing Kick to return with them.  Kick is determined to find her way back to her friends and Billy, no matter the cost.

I love when a book takes me somewhere I've never been.  Not modern day London, rather the London before the war.  I fell in love with it, just as Kick did, through the stories and details the author shared.  I also love when I learn from books, even if it's the smallest details, and when a book makes me think about it long after I finished the last page.   Religion was important in the past, especially how it figured into marriages and who one could or could not marry.  I think about how different the ladies living in that time were treated and how far we have come in our modern society.  I also realized that Kick had a fabulous, easy life, for the most part, but that some things I find easy in my life were extremely difficult for her, just because she was a Kennedy and she worried about how it would reflect on her family.  

If you enjoyed The Summer I Met Jack, pick this one up!  I received an advanced copy in exchange for my review, but all opinions are my own.
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I adored this novel.  Little is known about Kick Kennedy and I have always been fascinated by this American "royal" family.  Really enjoyed getting to know this person and through Maher's efficient story telling I felt like I wasn't being told I was part of getting to know her

this was a big undertaking for a debut author and she did a wonderful job!
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This story was fascinating and pulled me into London in the late 1930’s. I have never learned much about the Kennedy’s and had never heard of “Kick” Kennedy before but I enjoyed the authors portrayal of her life. I loved the how much of a strong, opinionated woman Kick turned out to be. I also found the author’s descriptions of London society and fashion to be really fun. While I enjoyed the story very much it dragged a bit at the end. I would still recommend it to anyone whose interested in historical fiction and the Kennedys.
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This book was not my cup of tea. I couldn't get into it. There were a lot of names and people to follow and it was hard for me to keep up. Unfortunately, I have decided not to finish it.
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Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy is the second oldest daughter of Joseph Kennedy Sr. and Rose Kennedy. When her father gets appointed to be ambassador in England, she becomes the toast of British society. Anxious to escape the iron-fist of her mother, Rose, Kick finds freedom in the arms of Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire. When her family discovers her affair, they forbid her to pursue him. War breaks out and Kick is ripped from her beloved’s side and forced to return to America. Does that stop her? She rebels against her family, faith and all she’s known to make it back to England on her own. Will she be reunited with her lover or will she choose to give up her own happiness to appease her family?


I’ve been fascinated by the Kennedys for as long as I can remember. The tragedies they’ve gone through is heartbreaking, but the story of Kathleen Kennedy is long-forgotten. This brave woman lived a short life, yet she managed to accomplish so much. I couldn’t wait to read it!


The Kennedy Debutante is an absorbing tale of one woman’s determination to be her own woman, even if it means leaving her family behind. The Kennedys come alive and practically fly off the page. Descriptive narration and emotive scenes make this one of the best historical fiction I’ve ever read. A must read, especially if you are fascinated with America’s Camelot.


Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Berkley via Netgalley in the hopes I’d review it.


My Rating: 5 stars
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Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy was the fourth child, and second daughter, of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. There were nine in all, and her siblings included Jack (President John F. Kennedy), Bobby (US Attorney-General, later Senator, Robert F. Kennedy), and Teddy (Senator Edward M. Kennedy.)

All of which sounds very dry. Kick Kennedy died young enough that she's barely remembered today, but her short life was packed with big events during a significant time in history. This is a fictionalized account, taking the bare facts and what we can infer from her impact on the rest of the family, and weaving them into an engrossing historical novel about a very real woman.

 Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was US Ambassador to Britain from 1938 to 1940. Catholic and Irish American, he was the first Catholic to represent the US in Britain, and this was a time when that still mattered. The Kennedys brought their children with them, and along with Joe Jr. and Jack, the two oldest boys, the two oldest girls, Rosemary and Kick, were old enough to be introduced to the social world. They were presented at court, and that is a moving scene where we get the first hints of why Rosemary is a problem for the family. It's also where Kick demonstrates her grace and poise under pressure.

We follow Kick through the pleasures and challenges of being part of a prominent diplomatic family, the challenges and sometimes terrors as Europe is sliding towards war, and a beloved father who, as Ambassador to Britain, is isolationist and pro-negotiation with Hitler as that position is becoming less and less tenable. Kick, meanwhile, is trying to build some independence and pursue her own view of what's right, quietly and without telling her parents volunteering at a local Catholic church, with a pastor who is a kindly, compassionate, and forward-thinking Irishman. Father Flaherty becomes a touchstone for Kick over the challenges of the next years of her life.

She also makes friends among the British aristocracy, as she has been encouraged to do.

What her parents didn't expect or want was that she would fall in love with a Protestant member of the British aristocracy, William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, a.k.a. Billy Hartington, heir to the very Protestant, and civil but anti-Catholic, Duke of Devonshire. Their courtship, separations due sometimes to the war and sometimes to the Kennedys' efforts to divert her from this unsuitable suitor in favor of more suitable prominent Catholic men, whether British or American.

Entangled with this is the sad story of Rosemary Kennedy, a young woman with a real problem for which the medical science of the time had only the wrong answers. We see the strengths and weaknesses of both Joe Sr. and Rose Kennedy, and the complicated relations among the Kennedy offspring.

It's an engrossing story, as well as enlightening. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, and am reviewing it voluntarily.
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The Kennedy Debutante is the story of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy who is the sister of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.  I am sad to say that I didn’t even realize that these two amazing men had a sister named Kathleen.    Now that I am in the know, I realize that without her these two men may not have ended up as famous as they were,  she is powerful, she is smart, and she pushed her brothers, supported her brothers, and love her brothers with her entire heart.    Do not get confused, this is not a story of the Kennedy men.   This is the story of Kick Kennedy and the way she shaped the world around her.

I really wanted to Google Kathleen Kennedy, I needed to know more about her but I held out.  I waited and read every word Kerri Maher wrote and learned so much not only about Kick but about the world she lived in, the war that affected her, and the family that she loved so much.    I was amazed at how much she wanted to change the world.   She wasn’t going to be happy to just be a woman in the world.   She wanted to make it better, to be a force to be recognized and to blaze her own path.   I loved how supportive her dad was.   Joe Sr. never gave his entire permission, as that would have been going against her mother, but he encourages and even showed her the way to get what she wanted a few times.    Rose, Kick’s mother, supported her but she wanted to keep her close and have her follow in her footsteps being a good Catholic, a good mother, and a good wife.     

The Kennedy Debutante is on my best historical fiction of 2018.    I will recommend it over and over again.
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The Kennedy Debutante: A Novel. Kerri Maher. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2018. 384 pp. ISBN#: 978451492043.
Kathleen (“Kick”) Kennedy is the vivid debutante of this novel, a story that captures the essence of the Kennedy clan’s powerful presence, but which presents this famous woman as complex, fearless, socially adept, and devout. She’s a woman of her own character, living out her blend of service and compassion for and within the formidable issues of her time.
The novel begins with Kick’s “coming out” party.  Like any normal debutante, Kick loves to party and is only held in check by her mother Rose, a formidable woman who monitors “everything” about every one of her children.  Kick’s father, Joe, is obsessed with his effect and that of his children and we later see how he comes to respect Kick’s presence and then her ideas which might enhance his position as America’s Ambassador to England.  But Kick is definitely her own woman!
Two challenging issues face Kick within this account.  One is falling in love with a member of British aristocracy, Billy Harrington.  He and his family are staunchly Protestant and Kick’s equally strong practice of Catholicism seem initially like an unbreachable impasse and a painful one at that!  Their love will evolve with some wise counsel of friends, family and mentors.
In the midst of this constant partying and pleasurable activities, WWII is looming.  Hitler’s aggressive behavior is threatening the world and that includes England.  Kick’s family is deeply affected.  Kick chooses her own way of donating her time to help in the war effort.  Billy signs up for Royal service, realizing how patriotic he really is and wanting to make a difference, with a later painful cost.  Kick’s father returns to America, his doubt about Hitler making many consider him a failure.  Kick’s brothers, Joe Jr. and Jack, join the Air Force and Navy respectively.  Kick’s mentally and emotionally challenged sister, Rose, undergoes a change that is tragic for her and the entire family.  Other difficult results of the war loom large, making it almost unbearable but which the Kennedys address with amazing strength.
Almost everyone has heard of the Kennedy family.  But Kennedy Debutante… plunges the reader into the everyday, real life of Kick Kennedy and her family in a way that doesn’t hide flaws but acknowledges “service” and “duty” to the world as the sound principles that made a difference to so many – yes, politically, but also personally.  Memorable, engaging biography and history reading!!!
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The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher is the story of Kathleen "Kik" Kennedy and provides a refreshing look at the famous Kennedy daughter. Kik is raised under her mother's strict regimen of diet and prayer and her father's ambitions for his sons.  Kik is very much the socialite, but we see she is also an intelligent and conscientious woman and we get to know her better as she navigates her way through the social scene, love, relationships, family and politics.  Maher does a great job of setting the details and dialogue of the time period and this makes for a great historical fiction book from a female's perspective in the Kennedy Family. I would highly recommend this book.  I received an ARC of this book, all opinions are my own.
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So… I can be a snob about novels that are fictionalized tales of real people in history. I admit to this. I’m obsessed with all things history and have spent many hundreds of hours happily lost in the rabbit holes of history, playing a sort of Word Association as I get lost in Wikipedia articles about obscure people and places I’ve never known just how badly I wanted to study. <b>The Kennedy Debutante</b> is different because, long before Wikipedia was a dream in the eye of whoever it was that started it, I had a bit of an obsession with the Kennedy family.

My family would probably say it was more than a ‘bit’ of an obsession and the stack of biographies still resides in my closet. I have to admit that Wikipedia is a little easier to handle than stacks of thousand pages biographies and histories.

But anyway, my obsession is still alive and well, it seems, because when I saw a novel about Kick Kennedy (JFK’s second sister, fyi) available for request on NetGalley, I clicked Request before I read the synopsis. (Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Books for granting me access in exchange for an honest review!)

So, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was a debutante in London in when her father was U.S. Ambassador to England. Eighteen at the time, she was quickly swept up in the elite social circles of aristocratic England, despite her being a Catholic American. And she fell in love with the Marquess of Hartington, who was considered a potential husband for Queen Elizabeth II. He was a Protestant. This caused many problems.

Those are historical facts, a very quick summary.

For the book itself, the novelization of Kick Kennedy’s life… it just works. The looming backdrop of World War II, the fact that Kick is one of the lesser well-known Kennedys, the… I don’t know the reasons, really, but Maher has centered on something magical here. Kick’s view of the world is privileged but unique, bleak but honest, full of love and full of heartbreak.

This fast became one of those novels about real people where you find yourself thinking “I don’t know if this might have happened but… gosh, I hope it did!” because you want them to have their happily ever afters.

But Kick is sort of the forgotten tragedy when it comes to the Kennedy family. Hers was a life cut short at only twenty-eight, one full of love and strength and independence and character. I knew how it ended for her, for her and the Marquess she loved, for her in all things and yet Kerri Maher made me cry for Kick. It’s not easy to make me cry. But that someone as strong as Maher wrote Kick to be, as I believe she was from my dusty stack of biographies, lost so much made me root for her even when I knew how it would end.

If you like historical fiction, read this book. If you like love stories, read this book. If you’re alright with some angst and tragedy, read this book. If you know a little or a lot about the Kennedys, read this book. If you like fiction set around World War II, read this book. If you are human, just read this book!
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I've long had an interest with the Kennedy family and this book about Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy was one that I had been looking forward to reading for a long time. Kick, the next oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy is one of the lesser known Kennedys. Her life and death have been overshadowed by her famous brothers. Kick's life was cut short, but she managed much during her short life. However, much came at a great cost. In the 1930s, her father Joe was the ambassador in London and Kick loved her life there. She had great friends and she also met the love of her life Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire. But, Kick came from a devout Catholic family and Billy was Protestant. Neither could compromise their faith. She would lose her family and his family would never accept that Billy converted nor that their future children would be raised Catholics. And, then England is drawn into WW2 in the middle of this emotional turmoil. Will they ever be together?

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Fascinating history, but the story drags in places. The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher tells the story of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, one of JFK’s younger sisters. Kick is aptly named, and she really lights up the page. She’s no-nonsense, clever, and can charm anyone! She’s one of those fascinating characters to read about, and I enjoyed reading about her. 
Early on, Kick falls in love with a man named Billy Hartington. Now Kick and the Kennedy family are all devout Catholics. Billy is very much a Protestant, and the families don’t see eye to eye with this match. So much of the book focuses on Kick trying to decide if she should put aside her religion (and also her family), or lose out on love. I was truly surprised to see so much religious dilemma in this read. Kerri Maher makes this dilemma mostly interesting, with both sides and what it means for each family understandable. Because there is so much of a focus on this sticky situation, it does end up dragging in places and I found myself skimming over parts of this.
Along with the religious dilemma, we see glimpses into the Kennedy household, and get a closer view of Kick’s mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and her intense drive for success. We also learn about Rosemary, Kick’s older sister, and read her sad story. We grow closer to Kick’s father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., and also her oldest brother, Joe Kennedy Jr. JFK also makes his expected dazzling appearances, and is charming as ever. 
Besides being a book about Kick and her family, this is also a WWII book. As Kick’s father was the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940, there is much here about Joseph Kennedy Sr.’s thoughts about not getting involved in war, and the anger that the UK felt towards the US about that. I found the WWII parts interesting, and different from other WWII books that I’ve read. Kick works for the Red Cross in parts of the book, and it was interesting to read about her work duties.
So much of the Kennedy stories are known already, and you can read about them online if you’re interested in knowing where the story will end up instead of going into The Kennedy Debutante blind.  I did read Kick’s Wikipedia page before getting too far into this book, and so because I knew how Kick’s real story ended, I was surprised at where The Kennedy Debutante ended. The book felt a bit unfinished to me, and I’d certainly be interested in reading another book by this author based on the Kennedy family. (I have no idea if there are plans for a companion book, or sequel of sorts to this read, but I feel that one would work, and would be interesting).

Bottom Line: Fascinating history and readable characters, but the book does drag in places.
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I recently listened to an audiobook about Rosemary Kennedy, and ever since, my interest has been piqued about Kick Kennedy’s short life. Why didn’t I know more about her? 

The Kennedy Debutante is Kick’s story. In 1930s London, Kick’s father is an ambassador in England, and she is a big time society girl. She has a yearning for a life of adventure, and with all her might, she works her way out of her strict mother’s grasp and into the arms of Billy Hartington, the soon-to-be Duke of Devonshire. 

The lovers are star-crossed, though, because Kick’s family is devout Catholic, and Billy’s family is Protestant. Their parents would never approve. 

World War II begins, which sends Billy to war and the Kennedys back home to the States. Nothing stops determined Kick from making her way back overseas where she becomes a journalist and works for the Red Cross. Will Kick choose her family or her love?

The Kennedys are like royalty in the US. Their contributions have been complex- from scandal to civil rights advocacy, to everything in between, including devastating tragedies of their own, but there is always a lurid fascination. Kerri Maher’s slower pacing of this story is deliciously detailed and offers insights into each of the Kennedy family members. 

The Kennedy Debutante is a wonderfully engaging story of the search for forbidden love while questioning family and faith. With World War II as its backdrop, The Kennedy Debutante is rife with a secured time and place and charming, robust characters. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, especially set against WWII. 

Thank you to Berkley for the invitation to participate in the blog tour and for the finished copy. All opinions are my own.
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