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Kick: The True Story of Kick Kennedy, JFK's Forgotten Sister

I'd read a bit about Kick Kennedy in Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshire, as Kick married her husband's elder brother, and since then have wanted to read more about the Kennedys in general, just not got around to it. Kick by Paula Byrne was one of Nan from Letters from a Hill farm's favourite books of 2016 and as Nan liked this book so much I decided to give it a go and was lucky enough to find a copy in my local library.

Kathleen Kennedy, known to all except her mother as 'Kick', was born in 1920 and was the fourth child and second daughter of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. She made up one third of the three Kennedy children known as the 'personality kids', the other two being the eldest two boys, Joe junior, and the future president, Jack. But Kick was special. As Joe senior said:

'All my ducks were swans... but Kick was especially special.'

From a very young age she shone. She was brave and fearless, intelligent, charismatic... the sort of person who lit up the room when she entered... everyone but everyone adored Kick Kennedy. It was not an easy family to grow up in though. The children's mother, Rose, was a devout Catholic and dedicated her life to making sure her children were as devout as her. Plus, with so many siblings you had to be something special to be noticed and had to be able to hold your own in family discussions, of which there were many as of course the Kennedys were an intensely political family. They were the first Irish Catholic family to rise to political prominence in America and it was Joe's ruthlessness which had made that so.

In the years leading up to WW2 the family led an idyllic life, educated in the best schools, money no object, and wonderful holidays in Florida and Cape Cod. In 1937 Joe was appointed American Ambassador to Great Britain and the family moved to London in 1938. In less than eighteen months the country would be at war with Germany but until then the Kennedy children became celebrities in a country which had never seen anything like them. The 'personality kids', young and good looking, were especially popular and Kick in particular discovered that men really liked her. They were in fact falling over themselves to court her. It wasn't long before Kick fell completely in love with England, its people, and its ways.

She had many admirers and dated a lot of them but eventually she was to meet Billy Hartington, eldest son and heir to the Duke of Devonshire and owner of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. They fell in love but there was one huge obstacle to their marriage: religion. Kick was Roman Catholic... the Devonshires not just fiercely protestant but historically one of the most anti-catholic families in the land. It was to cause Kick huge heartache and cause a rift with her family that was very slow to heal.

So here we have my first Goodreads five star book of 2017. I *loved* this book to bits... whizzed through it in about 3 days and now want my own copy. (Nan said I would...) The Kennedys are a family that I've wanted to read more about for a while, but I didn't know where to start, so I didn't. Kick, in fact, turns out to be the perfect place. There is much casual information about the family, ie. the parents, Joe and Rose Kennedy, where they came from, what they were about and so on. I say 'casual' because it's put over in a very readable way and there aren't pages and pages of dry reading to plough through. It's all very accessible and easy to absorb.

The book, of course, centres on Kick, but I learnt an awful lot about the two brothers she was closest to as well, Joe jnr. and Jack, because of course Kick didn't exist in a bubble. I knew nothing about Joe other than he died in the war. I knew more about Jack, obviously, but wasn't aware that he was often very ill and constantly in and out of hospital when he was young. Lots of other people come in and out of the story too. Kick was so immensely popular that wherever she went she affected everyone with her vivacity, sheer niceness and ability to make whoever she was talking to feel like they were the only person in the world. Men fell for her in droves even though she wasn't traditionally beautiful, she just had something about her that made people love her.

One of the things that surprised me, even though Deborah Devonshire did touch on it in Wait for Me!, was how the Kennedy family took London by storm when they arrived in 1938. We think the cult of 'celebrity status' is a recent thing. Er... no. The doings of the three Kennedy 'personality kids' were followed massively in the papers and they were photographed constantly, everyone wanted to get to know them and to be seen with them.

Of course, you can't mention the Kennedy family without thinking in terms of sadness and tragedy. Rose Kennedy wrote:

'Rosemary's was the first of the tragedies that were to befall us.'

Rosemary was the Kennedy's oldest daughter, not physically disabled but mentally retarded after a botched birth. Joe Kennedy ordered brain surgery for the young woman and it failed miserably, it made my blood run cold to read about it to be honest. Awful thing. And after that tragedy followed tragedy, starting with WW2 and carrying on after. Even though I knew what happened to Joe jnr., Billy Hartington and Kick herself it still hit me hard as I had felt I'd got to know them by the end of the book. Of course worse was to come with JFK himself but that is not touched on in this book.

So much more I could say about this delightful book. It's overall an excellent read, well written, good with atmosphere (I felt I was right there in the 1920s and 30s) and informative. I now want to read more about the Kennedy family so will investigate to see what's around and what's recommended. I do in fact own Jack by Geoffrey Perret, so will get to that very soon as well. I feel like Kick was a terrific introduction to the Kennedy family and I'm ready now to read on.


This sounds really good, I shall look out for it! Thanks!

We think the cult of 'celebrity status' is a recent thing. Er... no.
Even long before the Kennedys arrived I'd say - the Victorian papers followed various people around London on their visits, and especially trials and murderers too, where the villains became celebrities. I guess it's just that it was harder to tell other people about who you'd seen where, way back when. *g*
Yes, you're quite right about that. I always find it amazing too how many household names from that era have been completely forgotten. Lost count pf the docs I've watched where some obscure name is mentioned only to be told they were hugely famous in Victorian times. So odd.
I thought about reading this book after reading Rosemary, because that book does get quite a bit into her siblings. Nothing about the boys was a surprise, as I'm something of a political junkie, but I knew next to nothing about the girls. Maybe I'll have to give this one a go. :-)
I suppose in those days girls were less important than boys so less was known about them. The only reasom I knew about Kick was because I'd read Deborah Devonshire's autobiography. I also knew about Rosemary because another blogging friend read the same book as you. I'd like to read a general book that deals with the whole family if such a book exists. Must look.
This does sound good. I've ordered it from my local library service after reading your positive and glowing review. I am worried that it's going to be very sad, as there's no happy ending. That family has certainly had more than its share of tragedies.
The book as a whole is not sad, it's celebration of her life and quite a good history lesson. Obviously the last chapter is a bit sad, and also the bit about Rosemary. But overall I found it to be an enjoyable book... I hope your mileage doesn't vary too much. *g*
This sounds like an interesting biography. I wasn't even aware that Kick Kennedy had existed.

Attitudes about women and their careers have changed so much. Somewhere there's a quote, from an ancient Greek or Roman, who said it's detrimental to a woman's reputation if her name is so much as mentioned in public.

There was an old 1930s movie on TCM today concerning a woman psychiatrist whose suitor (a fellow physician) kept hounding her to give up her work (which she loved), and marry him, to become strictly a housewife/mother. It wasn't a very good movie, the dialog was trying too hard to sound like Noël Coward, and the constant anti-feminist ideas made it too annoying, so I don't even know how it turned out because I switched it off... but it did not bode well.
The only reason I knew Kick existed was because of her connection to one of the Mitford sisters that I've read quite a lot about. But it's quite sad I think that we all know about Joe jnr, Jack, Bobby and Teddy Kennedy, but all of those sisters, four or five of them, have passed into obscurity. That says so much.

I can take a certain amount of 'well, attitudes were different back then' because that is how we see how far we've come (even if it's not far enough). But if there really is too much then I get exasperated with it and have to turn it off. I'm getting older and time is precious. LOL

Edited at 2017-01-23 10:41 am (UTC)