Nancy Kennedy's Reviews > When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine

When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood
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's review
Jun 06, 2012

it was amazing
Read in June, 2012

Monica Wood writes with exuberance and tenderness about her upbringing in the paper mill factory town of Mexico, Maine, in the 1960s.

"Our story, like the mill, hummed in the background of our every hour," she writes, "a tale of quest and hope that resonated similarly in all the songs in all the blocks and houses, in the headlong shouts of all the children at play, in the murmur of all the graces said at all the kitchen tables."

Ms. Wood's idyllic childhood is shattered one day when on his way to work, her father dies suddenly. Ms. Wood's book is a lyrical study of her family's shock and grief in the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that followed, and of its eventual healing.

Ms. Wood's narrative flows along gorgeously with finely observed detail and evocative prose. Her heartbreaking story is leavened by gentle humor and amusing family jokes. She invents a language for the indecipherable words of their Lithuanian landlords. "Ash-ash, ticka-ticka, push-push!" the landlady grumbles while rummaging through her tenants' garbage or scolding the children for unknown infractions.

The title of the book links the death of Ms. Wood's father with the death later that year of President John F. Kennedy. The two families are linked -- at least in the Woods' minds -- by the tragedy of sudden widowhood and fatherlessness. I was a little puzzled by the title, because the Kennedy assassination doesn't appear for almost 170 pages. But the connection, tenuous though it is, leads to genuine healing for Ms. Wood's mother in particular.

This is a sad story of an innocent and carefree childhood cut short, but also a lovely story of how tight-knit communities like Ms. Wood's rally around aching souls when tragedy strikes. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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