Kennedy Debutante (Maher)

The Kennedy Debutant 
Kerri Maher, 2018
Penguin Publishing
384 pp.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
In addition to The Kennedy Debutante, Kerri Maher is also the author of This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World under the name Kerri Majors. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and founded YARN, an award-winning literary journal of short-form YA writing.

A writing professor for many years, she now writes full-time and lives with her daughter in Massachusetts, where apple picking and long walks in the woods are especially fine (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Maher’s assured debut, set against the backdrop of World War II, explores the life of JFK’s younger sister Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy.… [An] immersive, rich portrait of a complex young woman.
Publishers Weekly

The Catholic-Protestant conflict seems quaint compared to the civil and political unrest in today's world, and the romantic tension fizzles in some places, but this coming-of-age story will attract fans of the Kennedy dynasty. —Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT
Library Journal

An engrossing tale of the importance of family, faith, and love in the life of one remarkable woman.

Kick emerges as an immensely likable character, and… Maher shows the true cost of war, both for those fighting and those left behind. A romantic and heartbreaking look at an often forgotten American figure.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. In these days of Facebook and FaceTime, it is hard to imagine a love like Kick and Billy’s, which endures four years of their being separated by an ocean and a war, with infrequent letters and telegrams their only means of communication. Why do you think their love survives that distance of time and space?

2. Kick often struggles with the relationship between her internal desires and her external image. Where do the internal and external meet for her? Where are they most different? How does Billy deal with the same struggle?

3. Family, religion, and class are powerful forces in Kick’s life. How does she use them to her advantage? In what cases do they undermine her desire for an independent life?

4. Kick makes a number of observations about the differences between her own life and upbringing, and the expectations of her new milieu, English society. How does she use these differences to her advantage? Which ones does she try to minimize?

5. Have you ever been thrown into a new social scene and felt that you had to perform? How did it make you feel? What did you do?

6. Kick has to make a painful decision between her family and her love. Do you think you would make the same choice?

7. In what ways are Kick’s years in England before the war like a "beautiful dream," as she described them in the letter she wrote to her father in 1939? Does the dream continue when she returns during the war?

8. Jack, Joe Jr., and Billy all fight valiantly in World War II, but how are their attitudes toward the war different from one another’s? What do they have in common? What seems to be each man’s primary objective?

9. Kick and her English friends tend to "Keep Calm and Carry On"—or maybe "Party On" is a better description. Why do you think that is possible for them? Do you think the modern sensibility about war would produce the same result today?

10. Kick often envies her older brothers for their independence and freedoms. In what ways have young women today transcended those gender roles? In what ways are they still present?

11. Many women have to reconcile personal desires with the constraints of family and society. What do you think of Kick’s strategy? Do you think she would take the same approach today?

12. How does the Kennedy family as portrayed in the book fit with your own picture of the family? What surprises you?

13. The Kennedy women invest a great deal of time, effort, and money on fashion. What role does fashion play for them?

14. Jack tells John White, "There is Saturday night, and there is Sunday morning. Never the twain shall meet." Do you think Kick agrees?

15. How does the portrayal of Jack as a young man fit or not fit with your image of him as JFK, the man who—as Debo’s mother correctly predicted—became president of the United States?

16. "Some lives are short," Kick writes to Father O’Flaherty from Washington, DC, "and I increasingly feel that it’s essential to live the life it’s in one’s soul to live." In addition to the premature death of Kick’s friend George Mead, what do you think prompts this revelation? Do you think Kick lives the life it’s in her soul to live? Why is she so conflicted about her soul?
(Questions issued by publishers.)

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