Last week, I finished reading "When We Were the Kennedys" by author Monica Wood, a best-selling and award-nominated fiction writer. Wood's debut memoir was recommended to me by my friend and reading guru, Jen, who discovered the book a few months ago. Jen had warned me that I would need boxes of Kleenex – yes boxes – to make it through the book, so naturally I was a bit apprehensive. Now though, I can honestly say it has become one of those books I know will stay with me for a very, very long time, in the best way imaginable.
"When We Were the Kennedys" is set in 1963, Mexico, Maine, a small town that relied on the local paper mill for its livelihood. The community was filled with Irish-Catholic heritage; fathers worked day and night to feed their families, mothers cared day and night for their growing broods, and children lived carefree lives. John F. Kennedy was their hero, and everyone knew everyone and everything, in the kind of way that turns neighbors into family. One April morning, as Wood's father walked with his lunch pail to work at the mill, he dropped dead of a heart attack. For his family, one moment was incredibly ordinary – and the next was anything but.
How does one find a way to continue on when the person who promised to be there for you, who you adored to no end, and who seemed to have all the answers, is suddenly, shockingly gone? What will become of the family? Wood, her siblings, and her mother had to find the answers to these questions within their small world of Mexico, Maine. Only a few months later, the entire country had to do the same, following the assassination of JFK, the widowing of Jacqueline Kennedy, and the loss of national identity.
Wood ties her family's personal stories, grief, and search for answers with those of a nation, and the result is a brilliant, touching memoir that will make you laugh, smile, and cry. I promise it will stay with you for a very, very long time.
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