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The Importance of Being Kennedy: A Novel Hardcover – March 11, 2008

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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library Journal Learn more

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Graham moves her focus from the U.K. royals she portrayed in Gone with the Windsors to America's royal family in this imaginative fictionalization of the Kennedy clan's evolution between the world wars. The story is told from the perspective of Nora Brennan, an Irish immigrant nanny who watched over the Kennedy kids beginning in 1917. Though Nora adores each child, she grows especially fond of Rosie Kennedy, whose learning disability makes her the runt of the overachieving litter. Throughout her years of service, Nora discovers that beneath Mrs. K's prim and proper exterior is a heart as hard as the hob of hell, only outdone by Mr. K's unrelenting pressure on his sons to succeed at any cost. Meanwhile, Graham guides readers through the family scandals, political triumphs and petty squabbles that lead up to WWII, which will change the lives of the Kennedy family and their faithful nursemaid forever. Though it's billed as a bittersweet comedy, the Kennedys are easier to pity than to laugh at, and their lives are marred by tragedies that Nora suggests Joe Kennedy brought on himself. The family gets a very sympathetic if sometimes soft-focused treatment that should find a readership among those who came of age in the era of Camelot. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

British author Graham takes on America’s royal family, as seen through the eyes of Nora Brennan, an Irish immigrant who becomes the Kennedys’ nanny in 1917. Joe is a toddler and Jack is on the way when Nora arrives. By means of her chatty and insightful memoirs, Graham portrays this proud and prolific family until Kathleen Kennedy’s funeral in England in 1948. The reader is privy to the birth of each child, Mr. K’s philandering, Rose Kennedy’s frequent absences, and the lavish gifts she receives for ignoring his dalliances, including cars with drivers and Greenbrier vacations. The competitive Kennedy spirit is instilled almost from birth, even in Rosie, the slow learner finally sent to a Catholic home in Wisconsin. Mr. K’s stint as a Hollywood mogul, his friendship with FDR’s son Jimmy, and his lackluster years as ambassador to England are seen through Nora’s perceptive eyes, always in light of how they affect her brood. Graham blends accurate historical detail with Nora’s outspoken and gossipy vernacular in this highly entertaining read. --Deborah Donovan
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061173525
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061173523
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,667,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laurie Graham's social comedies have been described as combining the sharpness of Florence King with the gentle Englishness of Alan Bennett.
A former radio script writer and journalist, Laurie has been let go by a prestigious raft of conservative broadsheets and glossy women's magazines.
Nothing daunted she now gives vent to her opinions on her own website http://www.lauriegraham.com and at http://www.sundaygrowler.com
She lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Heidi L. Marshall on July 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long been a Laurie Graham fan. I totally loved Gone With the Windsors; needless to say I really looked forward to reading this book. But, something was lacking here. The Kennedy's were revealed realistically with "below stairs" humor. Nora the nursery maid that narrates the story was a character that I really liked. Clearly the book is based on facts; with an interesting concentration on Rose Kennedy and her rather cold approach to her children and life. Laurie Graham's usual sarcasm and wit are present throughout the book, which I have always enjoyed reading, but the plot development was awkward and inappropriate at times. I would recommend this book and even share it with friends; but I am rather sorry that I didn't wait for the paperback and save a bit of money.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Importance of Being Kennedy is the fictional account of Nora Brennan, an Irish nanny who serves the Kennedy family by raising all nine of the Kennedy children from birth. It follows the development of the children, the high flying beliefs of Joe Kennedy and his dreams for his boys, and the mark each Kennedy left on history. It is an interesting read that sheds light on America's royal family.

I thought it was a little strange to read a fictional diary about such a famous family and wondered how accurate it was to what life was truly like for a Kennedy child. It would be interesting to read a reaction by one of the family members. For a work of fiction, the characters are extremely deep and well developed. I found them easy to relate to and very believable. Rose Kennedy as a character in this book is one of the most complicated literary characters I have ever encountered. She simultaneously believes herself to be an involved, caring mother while leaving her children for weeks at a time to go traveling and shopping for pleasure.

The Kennedys' hey-day was long before I was born, so it was interesting to learn about the legends. A lot of my questions were answered, including why this family was significant and how they rose to power. "The Importance of Being Kennedy" feels like you're meeting the actual people. I found myself becoming attached to the Kennedy children and even looking online for more information about the real individuals, especially the "forgotten" daughter, Rose Kennedy. Whether you like history or just want to enjoy a good novel, Laurie Graham will not disappoint you. Her book is a literary gem that shouldn't be missed.

by Jennifer Melville
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Brenneman on June 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just happened to see this book at the library in the new section. I have read alot about the Kennedy's and everyone knows about the tragedy's they have endured. This book however, was really refreshing and something entirely new. It is based on real people and events but told to us by someone that wasn't really "there". I totally enjoyed Nora's observations about the family and the war. It was a wonderful read. I highly recommend it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By L. SUMMERS on May 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book was a surprise Laurie Graham writes with a comedic syle that has you laughing out loud I found it also well edited, as it flowed along through the years. I am sure Rose Kennedy would have hated this book, it certainly does not view her kindly
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By Diva W on August 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
I am not a big fan of books based on historical figures... sure you can get the facts straight but who is to know how a conversation really took place unless you were there yourself to observe or were indeed a part of it. No matter how well researched, unless it's an autobiography, it's all speculation.

Which is why I found myself wishing that Nora Brennan really was the Kennedy nurserymaid and helped raise Joe Jr, Jack, Kick, Rosie and all the other children of Joe and Rose Kennedy. Because this book is an absolute treat - and a page turner to boot.

Even though I have grown up in the shadow of such figures and am familiar with their stories - we all know the older brother died in the war and that a sister also died in a plane crash, Jack and Bobby were assassinated and Teddy could never be President because of Chappaquidick and then there was that sister who was not quite right, etc. - I found myself wanting to know more about these individual people. Because they do indeed become real and all of them - except mother/matriarch Rose of course - are so likeable and so human.

It was fun falling in love with the spoiled but adorable Kathleen Kennedy and poor sister Rosie and seeing Jack and Bobby in not quite the same light I was led to believe in. I wondered if Eunice really was the nervous wreck she is portrayed to be and Jean the sad little wallflower. And what Rosie really was like before the lobotomy. And whether or not her mother could be so cruel and uncaring. And yes, it was also fun hating Rose Kennedy. And Joe too but probably not so much. Joe may have been self centered and self serving but she just comes off as a total bitch.

And Nora too was a joy... just a good person with a good heart telling her tale with wit and honesty.
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Format: Paperback
A story narrated from the perspective of an Irish nanny, Nora Brennan, The Importance of Being Kennedy: A Novel is a fictitious work based on historic facts.

In the beginning, we meet Nora when she is hired as a nanny for the Kennedys of Brookline, Massachusetts, and in the true sense of the word, she becomes the "hand that rocked the cradles." She describes being the mainstay in the nursery, as both Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy went about their business and social activities. She literally reared all nine Kennedy children.

Referred to by Nora as "Herself," Rose Kennedy was portrayed as a cold woman with numerous rules and schedules, leaving little time for nurturing or compassion. Her attitudes seemed very rigid and lacking acceptance; she often turned away from those who disappointed her. Mr. Kennedy was depicted as the master mind who planned out the fates of his children and arranged and rearranged events when things went awry.

The saddest tales for me were the stories of Rosie, the "slow" child, and Kick (Kathleen), who pursued her love interests despite their acceptability to the family.

The parts I enjoyed the most were those that showed Nora's own thoughts and feelings, and ultimately, how she managed to create a life of her own that included marriage, despite being past the usual age for a first marriage.

It was difficult to imagine which parts were fictionalized and if any parts of the story, other than what we know factually, bore any resemblance to reality. I did enjoy this glimpse of the early years in the family, before the very public events most of us know. The timeline for the story was from the early 1900s to 1950.

There were many details that did not interest me; if eliminated, the book would have been a faster and more captivating read, in my opinion. Therefore, three stars.
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