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When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine Hardcover – July 10, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 341 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"When We Were the Kennedys is a sharp, stunning portrait of a family’s grief and healing, and it also offers a refreshing lens through which to view the JFK tragedy, as his family’s loss helps the Woods feel less adrift in their own sea of anguish...Wood writes beautifully." —Washingtonian

"Wood movingly renders her childhood in Mexico, Maine, and her large Catholic family's fight to survive after her father's sudden death. It's a pleasure to linger with her elegant prose, keen eye, and grace of thought."—Reader's Digest

“The book is a shining example of everything a memoir should be.” —U.S. Catholic

"This is a beautifully composed snapshot of how a family, a town—and, later, a country—grieves and goes on...The bonds between family members, neighbors, and coworkers, as well as men and their professions, are all explored here with sensitivity and a sweetness that isn’t saccharine." —Library Journal
 
"Braiding her own story of mourning together with the heartbreak all around her, Wood has written a tender memoir of a very different time." —O, the Oprah Magazine

"Every few years, a memoir comes along that revitalizes the form, that takes us by the hand and leads us into the dream world of our collective past from which we emerge more wholly ourselves. With generous, precise, and unsentimental prose, Monica Wood brilliantly achieves this, bringing back to life the rural paper mill town of not only her youth but America's, too, its bumbling, hard-working, often violent, yet mostly good-hearted lurch forward into the 21st century. When We Were the Kennedys is a deeply moving gem!"—Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie

"This is an extraordinarily moving book, so carefully and artfully realized, about loss and life and love.  Monica Wood displays all her superb novelistic skills in this breathtaking, evocative new memoir.  Wow."—Ken Burns, filmmaker

"Monica Wood has written a gorgeous, gripping memoir. I don't know that I've ever pulled so hard for a family. When We Were the Kennedys captures a shimmering mill-town world on the edge of oblivion, in a voice that brims with hope, feeling, and wonder. The book humbles and soars."—Mike Paterniti, author of Driving Mr. Albert

“Monica Wood is a stunning writer and When We Were the Kennedys a luminous and resonant achievement. If I were standing beside you, I would press this book into your hands.”—Lily King, author of The Pleasing Hour and Father of the Rain

Wood’s book...goes much beyond the story of her family’s grief. The book is a meditation on time... It’s also a record of a vanished way of life... it avoids sentimentalizing small-town life... By bringing such a town to life, with all its complexities and imperfections, it’s to Monica Wood’s great credit that she goes a long way to answering these questions. The New Yorker online

"In her intimate but expansive memoir, Monica Wood explores not only her family's grief but also the national end of innocence. Braiding her own story of mourning together with the heartbreak all around her, Wood has written a tender memoir of a very different time." --Oprah Magazine

"On her own terms, wry and empathetic, Wood locates the melodies in the aftershock of sudden loss...That a memory piece as pacific and unassuming as When We Were the Kennedys should be allowed a seat in the hothouse society of tell-alls is a tribute to the welcoming sensibility of its author and the knowing faith of her publisher. " Boston Globe

"It's a pleasure to linger with her elegant prose, keen eye, and grace of thought." --Reader's Digest "Best of America" issue

"Wood's gorgeously wrought new book...is a sharp, stunning portrait of a family's grief and healing, and it also offer a refreshing lens through which to view the JFK tragedy, as his family's loss helps the Woods feel less adrift in their own sea of anguish." --The Washingtonian "Best of Washington" issue

"Extraordinary, powerful and moving...This heart-wrenching, emotional, sometimes funny, oftentimes astonishing, and always compelling story is far better than the best novel...You will find yourself pausing, rereading entire paragraphs and thinking about what you've read...Read it and weep. Read it and wonder. Read it and rejoice. Kennebec Journal/Waterville (Maine) Morning Sentinel

"This is an extraordinarily moving book, so carefully and artfully realized...Monica Wood displays all her superb novelistic skills in this breathtaking, evocative new memoir. Wow." —Ken Burns, filmmaker

"A tender, plaintive...genuinely compelling depiction of family grief...a bittersweet, end-of-innocence family drama." --Kirkus

"My great book of the summer...It’s a terrific book, telling the story of Wood's family after the sudden death of her father when she was only nine. That’s sad, of course, but the book isn’t about being sad, it’s about being a family. It’s also about an era—the year was 1963—and draws a parallel between Wood's story and the national loss of President Kennedy." Bill Roorbach in Orion Magazine

Book Description

HMH Hardcover, 2012
Previous ISBN 978-0-547-63014-4
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 054763014X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547630144
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (341 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,093,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Suzanne Amara VINE VOICE on May 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I picked up this book last night to start reading, just a few pages, as I was tired. Hours later, I reluctantly put it down to finish in the morning. I've read all morning, unable to stop, and I have to say this is possibly the best memoir I've ever read, and one of the best books overall.

Monica Wood grew up in Mexico, Maine, in the shadow of the Oxford paper mill. In the early pages, her father dies suddenly, and we follow her family over the next few years, as her mother slowly emerges from grief, aided by her compassion for Jackie Kennedy, who is widowed later the same year. Monica's father's death affects many people, including her uncle, a priest, who does his best to help his sister's family but is grieving himself. Monica finds ways to keep going---reading Nancy Drew, spending time with her new best friend and her friend's father, helping with her disabled sister Betty and working hard at the Catholic school she attends.

I was interested in this book to start with because it's about growing up in Maine, as I did, but I realized that the Maine depicted in this book is a whole different world than the Maine I knew, and I loved learning about it. Western Maine in the mid-century was very industrial. People had good jobs, and lived well. There was a cost---lots of pollution and chemicals that did long term harm, but at the time, it was a good life. The town Monica grew up in was full of immegrents speaking many languages, not anything like the fishing village in Coastal Maine I grew up in. It was fascinating to get a picture of that life, and it was so well written about here than I plan a trip to Mexico and Rumford to see the remains of that way of life.

There is not a single false note here. The writing is near perfect.
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Format: Hardcover
How often has someone driving in the western mountains of Maine descended a long hill to encounter the stink of a gigantic paper plant towering over a tiny town and wondered out loud, "How could anyone live here?" Monica Wood's memoir, When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, answers that question with a remarkable moving portrait of her family in a proud papermaking community, from the perspective of one year, 1963, when she was in fourth grade. "In high summer, when tourists in paneled station wagons caravanned through town on their way to someplace else, hankies pressed comically to their noses against the stench of paper being made, I sat with my friends on the stoop of Nery's Market to play License Plate."

Into this child's world, the unthinkable happens three times, her adored father who has carried his work pail across the bridge into the jaws of the paper plant for nearly forty years, drops dead, plunging her family into grief. Six months later the assassination of
President Kennedy, whose portrait was displayed proudly on the wall next to a picture of the Pope all over town, will shock the nation into grief. Months later the first major strike at the mill will begin a death knell for a way of life. Although Wood's memoir dives fearlessly into how grief grips and changes her family, this is a story that in its telling becomes luminous. Wood's intimate portrait gives the reader a family they can embrace like the most beloved children's stories, like the Marches in Little Women, like Laura Ingalls Wilder's family on the prairie surviving The Long Winter.

The finest memoirs need not only a compelling story, but reflection and insight that transforms the material so that the reader is moved and changed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.

It is no surprise that Ms. Wood is primarily a fiction writer. Her 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. I found that I was distracted questioning the title. I should have just read the back cover copy first! But the connection, tenuous though it is, leads to genuine healing for Ms. Wood's mother in particular.
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