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When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine

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1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depend 1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.


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1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depend 1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.

30 review for When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Confession— I never even heard of *MEXICO*, Maine until I started reading this book. ..... which is a ‘small’ town with an Oxford Paper factory. I learned details about the paper mills and how they got started and details on paper making which I found fascinating. Monica’s family and the entire small town was dependent on the paper mill in some way. The town people knew each other well -- yet in many ways - they didn’t know each other at all. Besides personal family autobiographical and biograp Confession— I never even heard of *MEXICO*, Maine until I started reading this book. ..... which is a ‘small’ town with an Oxford Paper factory. I learned details about the paper mills and how they got started and details on paper making which I found fascinating. Monica’s family and the entire small town was dependent on the paper mill in some way. The town people knew each other well -- yet in many ways - they didn’t know each other at all. Besides personal family autobiographical and biographical stories -[including death, grief, sorrow, and love] , Monica Wood gives us a great experience of what life was like living in this small town of Mexico, Maine in the mid/late 50’s to the 1960’s. There is joy and smiles while reading - not all grief and sadness: blue popsicles ....and >SING ALONG> “You ain’t nuthin’ but a hound dog”.......etc. Monica and I both had mothers who looked at Jackie Kennedy —( slim and graceful - humbly rich), who suffered the unthinkable.....with a DIRECT EXPERIENCE of “bearing up”. And both of us had mothers who just didn’t cope well with the loss of their husband. Monica and her three sisters who were all close in age - stayed close, (one was mentally disabled), helping each other heal the loss of their dad. My older sister and I did the same. Monica had an older brother and sister almost a generation older than she and her other three sisters. Her older sister taught English at the local high school. The entire community knew her. Her older brother entered the Air Force the year Monica was born. Her uncle, who was a catholic priest, was the strongest male presence during childhood years. This memoir moves from the 50’s era.... where mom stays home- dad the devoted company man..... to times beginning to change: starting with the Kennedy assassination in 1963....and the onset of the Vietnam War. There is a very touching ending of how this family comes together....and honors their father. It’s really sweet. Even though what happened to the Kennedys happen to the Wood’s Family —( death of their father)..... I actually think the title and photo of this book is not quite right. It’s misleading....which is my only criticism of this book. The cover makes it look like this is a beach story - which it’s not. And the title suggests that this might primarily be a story about the Kennedy family.....which it’s also not. However, THE BOOK ITSELF IS GREAT! Monica is an excellent writer. We get an inside look into a catholic family...and for a Jewish girl I got a kick from reading about how important being Catholic was from beliefs to salmon cakes on Friday night dinners. For Jews is Challah bread and Shabbat candles. The experience of the 50’s and 60’s for many of us older farts - weather in a small town or in a large city, religious or not....this book has us see many things we shared in common. Plus..... it’s a darn lovely memoir of Monica Wood’s growing years!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    I'd recommend this beautifully written memoir to anyone but if you grew up in the 60's and remember exactly where you were when you heard that President Kennedy was killed , I would tell you that you just absolutely have to read this book . Mine was not a Irish Catholic upbringing like Monica's but I was raised in an Italian Catholic family of five children and I was 13 not 10 like Monica was when President Kennedy was killed . I lived during those times of " yes sister " "no sister " in my navy I'd recommend this beautifully written memoir to anyone but if you grew up in the 60's and remember exactly where you were when you heard that President Kennedy was killed , I would tell you that you just absolutely have to read this book . Mine was not a Irish Catholic upbringing like Monica's but I was raised in an Italian Catholic family of five children and I was 13 not 10 like Monica was when President Kennedy was killed . I lived during those times of " yes sister " "no sister " in my navy blue uniform with the white blouse that my mother ironed every morning as did Monica's mother .So I could certainly relate . We watched superman on TV and we ate tootsie rolls . I too wore unlaced keds and brought money to school to "save the little pagan babies."And I remember vividly how we were taught to " offer it up " . I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I recalled these things This is so much more though , than a trip down memory lane . It's a moving recollection of how a little girl and her family cope with the death of her father . They are a beautiful and loving family and while a good portion of the memoir focuses on the death of her father , there is so much life in this book . I loved it .

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    4.5 Stars Can it be that it was all so simple then Or has time rewritten every line If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we? The Way We Were – Songwriters: Alan Bergman / Marilyn Bergman / Marvin Hamlisch Mexico, Maine—“Gateway to the Western Mountains”—is the town where Monica Wood grew up, and “When We Were the Kennedys” is her memoir of those years when they were a family living in Mexico, a town across the Androscoggin River from Rumford, Maine, which in 1963 wa 4.5 Stars Can it be that it was all so simple then Or has time rewritten every line If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we? The Way We Were – Songwriters: Alan Bergman / Marilyn Bergman / Marvin Hamlisch Mexico, Maine—“Gateway to the Western Mountains”—is the town where Monica Wood grew up, and “When We Were the Kennedys” is her memoir of those years when they were a family living in Mexico, a town across the Androscoggin River from Rumford, Maine, which in 1963 was home to the Oxford Paper company’s paper mill. ”In each beholden family, old languages were receding into a multicultural twilight as the new, sun-flooded story took hold; the story of us, American children of well-paid laborers, beneficiaries of a dream.” The population of Mexico, Maine in 2016 was a little over 2600 people, where the median home cost is $62,378, but you can buy a house for under $20,000. In 1963, needless to say, those numbers were different. Although the population of the towns that surrounded the paper mill collectively were higher than just Mexico’s population, it was less than 14,000 for all those towns combined, yet approximately 3,000 of those worked in some capacity as papermakers for the Oxford paper mill. There aren’t as many towns built around companies, or “company towns” as there used to be, towns like Bedford Falls (“It’s a Wonderful Life”), another mill town. Rivers polluted, old homes in need of repair, people making a living, instead of living the dream, but for them, at the time, they felt like they were living the dream. The Mill was where Monica Wood’s father worked, bringing home an endless supply of paper for his children to draw on, and when one stack began to dwindle another wasn’t long behind. Monica Woods felt, in those days, as though they were “rich.” Her father was a salaried foreman, and they lived in an apartment where her father walked to work each day, and walked home at the end of the day. Until one day in April 1963, he began his walk to work, never making it there, never making it home again, the husband, the father, found dead in the streets on his morning walk to his office at the mill. ”My eyes sting but I’m too young to fully know why. That hushed note in my mother’s voice is shame—the shame of widowhood; her husband gone like that. Gone, too, is our appearance as a family whole, gone the illusion of bounty, the sustaining tableau of a man with a lunch pail leaving 16 Worthley Avenue every morning and returning to that same address every night.” “This morning we woke up as the Wood family. Who are we now?” The funeral follows, a daze settles into the new and impossible routine with their father no longer part of their day. ”Somebody calls the constable. The boy with the marvelous voice says a prayer. I have met this now-grown-up boy a handful of times over the years. I have watched him perform. He sings in a rich, operatic tenor, heart-crushingly beautiful, in which, I believe, Dad’s final moments still live.” “We were an ordinary family; a mill family, not the stuff of opera. And yet, beginning with the singing boy who found Dad, my memory of that day reverberates down the decades as something close to music. Emotion, sensation, intuition. I see the day—or chips and bits, as if looking through a kaleidoscope—but I also hear it, a faraway composition in the melodious language of grief, a harmonized affair punctuated now and again by an odd, crystalline note fluting up on its own. A knock on a door. A throaty cry.” As the months pass, they find they have yet another bond with the country’s President’s family when JFK is shot, and killed. As Catholics, the mother and the girls sympathize with the children and the widow, what they’re going through, what they have yet to face. The whole country is mourning their loss. Wood was nine years old the year her father died, one of four girls, the second youngest of five children. The eldest, her only brother, had joined the Air Force, married and moved back home to work at the mill. This memoir isn’t just about the loss of a beloved father, or the pain of a nine year-old girl coming to terms with that loss. It is about a way of life, a life lived in a small town, the type of place where one returns after college or after finding a skill to support a family, to begin that family, and to raise their children there. It's about the loss of that way of life. It’s about a generation raised on believing in the invincibility of these companies, their town, their state and their country. It’s about home, and family. The connection we feel to those who have been through an unhappy journey, one that we have shared. It’s an elegy to a vanishing, if not vanished, way of life. It’s the bond of all those things, and the loved ones tied to us, to who we were, to who we are, that our hearts hold tight to, regardless of the heartbreak associated with those memories – within those memories there are beautiful ones, as well. ”I was there, it tells me, still pushing smoke signals into the sky. Beneath those clouds, I experienced the shock of loss, the solace of family, the consolation of friendship, the power of words, the comfort of place. Beneath those clouds, I learned that there is, as my birthday Bible instructed me at age ten, a time for every season. Beneath those clouds, my parents died before their time. But they lived here, too, thankful for their chance.” Recommended

  4. 4 out of 5

    B the BookAddict

    I totally get this gorgeous little book. It reminds me of my own childhood; Catholic, growing up with only sisters, being educated by nuns. And this novel gave me back a saying from those days, “offer it up”: used when things test you beyond all reasonable limits. What a gift! Told in the guileless voice of young Monica, it's the wonderful recollection of a childhood marred by a loss but no less strong in a family of love, laughter and hope. And this is a loss about to be mirrored in the nation' I totally get this gorgeous little book. It reminds me of my own childhood; Catholic, growing up with only sisters, being educated by nuns. And this novel gave me back a saying from those days, “offer it up”: used when things test you beyond all reasonable limits. What a gift! Told in the guileless voice of young Monica, it's the wonderful recollection of a childhood marred by a loss but no less strong in a family of love, laughter and hope. And this is a loss about to be mirrored in the nation's first family. Truly evocative, this novel captivates the reader so that just for a while, it is the early sixties, you are in Maine and the world is about to change. Monica Wood steps you back into a childhood; maybe like your own and even if not, this is a memorable read. There is not a thing that I disliked about this extraordinary novel. I borrowed it using my inter-library service and am so glad I bothered to put in the request. Definitely 5★

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A lovely and moving memoir of a talented author’s life growing up in the tiny town of Mexico in western Maine, population 2,000, during the early 60s. Working class people like her father moved there in the 20s to work in the paper plant across the river in a somewhat larger town of Oxford. The pay was good, and for the multicultural folks stably employed there a bond among them developed over the sense of living the American dream and the rich family life allowed to flourish there: Through our e A lovely and moving memoir of a talented author’s life growing up in the tiny town of Mexico in western Maine, population 2,000, during the early 60s. Working class people like her father moved there in the 20s to work in the paper plant across the river in a somewhat larger town of Oxford. The pay was good, and for the multicultural folks stably employed there a bond among them developed over the sense of living the American dream and the rich family life allowed to flourish there: Through our elders in Mexico—who spoke French, or Italian, or Lithuanian, or English with a lilt--cherished their cultural differences, which were deep and mysterious and in family lore, what bound us, the children, was bigger and stronger and far more alluring than the past. It was the future we shared, the promise of a long and bountiful life. The unlikely source of that promise penetrated our town like a long and endless sigh: the Oxford Paper Company, that boiling hulk on the riverbank, the great equalizer that took our fathers from us every day and eight hours later gave them back, in an unceasing loop of shift work. The people of Mexico were proud of the product they helped produce and, strange as it may seem, felt a sense of benevolence from the company managers: “The Oxford” we chummily called it. From nowhere in our town could you not see it. The mill. The rumbling, hard-breathing monster that made steam and noise and grit and stench and dreams and livelihoods—and paper. … It made a world unto itself, overbearing and irrefutable, claiming the ground along the Anrdoscoggin, a wide and roiling river that cracked the floor of our valley life the lifeline on a palm. My father made his living there, and my friends’ fathers, and my brother, and my friends’ brothers, and my grandfather, and my friends’ grandfathers. The life in small-town Maine which Wood captures is something that I identify with, having moved to a similar-sized community myself in eastern Maine in 1993. Life here changes so much with the seasons. People have that iconic New England independence, but still reach out to help each other when the need is there. Unlike her, I will forever be considered as a person “from away.” For a time I worked in one town near a paper mill and another time I lived in another with a mill. The particular stench from the chemicals employed at these plants is something I failed to get used to, even though long-term residents claim that to them it represented the comforting smell of “money.” The exploitation of this industry of their workers, the struggles of unions, and the adverse health of the chemicals, asbestos, and lead paint are not part of this story. The idyllic family life Monica lived changed forever one day when Monica was about nine: her rock of a father died of a heart attack on the way to work. The rest of the book represents how she and her family pulled themselves together to live on and thrive, that miracle of resilience which is so elusive to account for. Here she recaptures how her young mind reached for metaphors to translate her experience that first day: My memory of that day reverberates down the decades as something close to music. …a faraway composition in the melodious language of grief, a harmonious affair punctuated now and then by an odd crystalline note, fluting up on its own. A knock on the door. A throaty cry. …Ohhh, my mother sings. Ohhh. Somehow so much of routine life continues as normal. Her parakeet still perches on her oatmeal bowl for snacks while she eats, tossing the despised raisins aside. Her younger sister Cathy embraces routine as a real strategy to defeat the incomprehensible: she slips out and goes off to her second grade class. Her other sister Betty, who was intellectually challenged, doesn’t really understand what has changed and resorts to prayer: “AH FATHA WHO AHHT IN HEAVEN, HELLO BE THY NAME.” The true casualty is her uncle, the priest Father Bob, who is “still here sitting next to the birdcage, breathing like a gut-shot deer”. As the much younger brother of her mother, Monica’s father became like a virtual father to him too (he was “a lonely bookish boy who found in Dad the father he’d always wanted”). In the coming days and weeks, the burden to Father Bob in projecting strength and wisdom to the family and community over God’s plan is too much for him, and he withdraws into alcoholism. The family loyally rides out his period of recovery, and in one wonderful scene make a trip all the way to Washington, DC, to spring him from a treatment hospital. See if you can refrain from getting teary eyed over the following passage from Monica’s heart: We were Father Bob’s wonderful girls, his honor and joy, and even in our earliest visits …I’d perceive in his presence a dozy, distant weight, the baffling burden of being intensely loved. …As I watch him come back to himself, a feeling visits me, an odd warmth that I don’t yet recognize as the essence of family love: the power to bestow forgiveness, to turn trespass into redemption, to stitch a lasting shape out of formless sorrow even in a season already steeped in grief. This book fits into a special category that I love, which could be considered biographies of place. It is also a lyrical window on the personal development of one who came to treasure writing as a means of self-expression. At the time, she took courage from what she read in novels, such as how Anne of Green Gables eventually got over the death of her adoptive father, Matthew, and how the March children were “crossed by fate but headed for redemption.” The loss of Jack Kennedy was something that happened in this period that brought the community together and not their defeat. People rave about Wood’s novel, the “One-in-a-Million Boy”, and on the basis of her skills evident in this memoir, I’m really looking forward to it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Plourde

    THE TOP TEN REASONS TO READ MONICA WOOD’S MEMOIR WHEN WE WERE THE KENNEDYS #10 It’s the best book I’ve read in YEARS. My husband says the same thing. Agreement like that doesn’t happen very often. #9 Monica Wood’s initials are M. W. —which surely stand for Master Wordsmith. #8 The book opens with the sudden death of nine-year-old Monica Wood’s father, and that’s just the start of the trials and tragedies in this memoir. Yet OPTIMISM sings through its pages. #7 Monica Wood is a fiction writer first an THE TOP TEN REASONS TO READ MONICA WOOD’S MEMOIR WHEN WE WERE THE KENNEDYS #10 It’s the best book I’ve read in YEARS. My husband says the same thing. Agreement like that doesn’t happen very often. #9 Monica Wood’s initials are M. W. —which surely stand for Master Wordsmith. #8 The book opens with the sudden death of nine-year-old Monica Wood’s father, and that’s just the start of the trials and tragedies in this memoir. Yet OPTIMISM sings through its pages. #7 Monica Wood is a fiction writer first and foremost, and her memoir peels away layer after layer to reveal the story—just as the best fiction does. #6 If you loved the town/city you grew up in, Monica will make you love it even more. #5 If you’re of a certain age and grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, you’ll revel in the detailed time capsule she’s created. #4 Monica Wood’s family, the characters in the story, will seem like you already know them; or if not, you’ll want to adopt them. #3 It’s a book you can’t stop reading at the same time you don’t want it to ever end. #2 Monica Wood says more in a single phrase than most authors do with piles and piles of paragraphs and pages. #1 While Monica Wood shares her TRUTH to its core in her memoir, she simultaneously helps readers to understand their own TRUTHS.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Antoinette

    I, for the most part, do not read memoirs. I decided to read this one after reading “Ernie’s Ark” by Monica Wood and which I absolutely loved, and because of 2 GR friends, Cheri and Angela M, whose reviews steered me to read it. This is a memoir of a childhood that is irrevocably changed when Monica’s father dies. “ This morning we woke up as the Wood family. Who are we now?” This book is not a pity party. It is a celebration of the Wood family and their overcoming such a difficult loss. The year is I, for the most part, do not read memoirs. I decided to read this one after reading “Ernie’s Ark” by Monica Wood and which I absolutely loved, and because of 2 GR friends, Cheri and Angela M, whose reviews steered me to read it. This is a memoir of a childhood that is irrevocably changed when Monica’s father dies. “ This morning we woke up as the Wood family. Who are we now?” This book is not a pity party. It is a celebration of the Wood family and their overcoming such a difficult loss. The year is 1963- Monica is 9 yrs old. I was 8 at the time. I rejoiced along with her when she discovered the Nancy Drew books. ( She felt exactly as I did). I was one of those children who was ordered out of the house and played outside all day, as she and her sisters were. Her memories felt like my memories, other than I did not lose my father at such a young age. 1963- Families were nuclear families. Most of them had a mother, father and numerous children. Losing her Dad made her feel like her family was no longer normal. “I’ve written two full pages full of beginning- Nancy’s mother, Nancy’s father, Nancy’s house, Nancy’s yard, Nancy’s clothes and car and meals-searching, I suppose(in my book, in every book), for a family with no missing pieces, the family we used to be.” 1963- the year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His wife and children were also left alone. Monica’s Mom especially felt that Jackie Kennedy was a kindred spirit. They were not the only ones suffering a loss. This book is a tribute to her father- his dedication to his family and his work. This book is a tribute to the Wood family and their love for one another. This book is a tribute to Mexico, Maine and its people. It is also a homage to a town that disintegrates after the loss of their main industry. Wow this is my kind of memoir. Monica Wood is an exceptional writer and this memoir is not to be missed!!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Each summer for at least the last decade, I've been lucky to have found a way to read a book that takes place, or was written, in Maine. From the beloved "Country of the Pointed Firs" to Justin Cronin's magnificent "The Summer Guest", through Paul Doiron's excellent mysteries, Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful "Stern Men" ( written before she was THAT Elizabeth Gilbert), the stately, proud "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout, Colby College professor Jennifer Finney Boylan's funny, poignant memo Each summer for at least the last decade, I've been lucky to have found a way to read a book that takes place, or was written, in Maine. From the beloved "Country of the Pointed Firs" to Justin Cronin's magnificent "The Summer Guest", through Paul Doiron's excellent mysteries, Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful "Stern Men" ( written before she was THAT Elizabeth Gilbert), the stately, proud "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout, Colby College professor Jennifer Finney Boylan's funny, poignant memoirs, "This Life is in Your Hands" by Melissa Coleman, and, of course, the deadpan, humane works of former Colby professor, now Camden-based, Rick Russo. Except for the meretricious and truly awful "Maine", by, I think, J. Courtney Sullivan, they have been deeply satisfying, richly evocative, and very, very memorable. Now a new classic can join these on my 'best-loved books of Maine' shelf: the slim, but gorgeously written, "When We Were the Kennedys : A Memoir of Mexico, Maine" by Monica Wood. It's pitch-perfect, describing with exactitude a prosperous mill town of the early '60's, steeped in three generations of success and well-being, and benignly unaware of its future downward trajectory. Overlaying the drama of the demise of the Oxford Paper Company, which existed nobly alongside other paper mills and shoe factories of a now bygone era, is the Wood family's personal tragedy--the sudden death of the author's beloved, hard-working father--and the inevitable comparisons with the Kennedy family's loss at nearly the same time. In terrifically tender prose, neither overwrought nor inappropriate, Monica Wood tells a magnificent story that is both intensely personal and absolutely universal. This is a gem.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    WHEN I first started reading this book I did not realize how closely I would come to identify with this wonderful family. Irish Catholic, oh yes, salmon loaf on Fridays, we had salmon coquettes in cream sauce which I hate to this day. Much younger siblings, priests, the sisters, Catholic school and a family grieving a Father's early death. Yes, to all of those. How the family handled his death and how they changed in the face of it is the main thrust of the story told with honesty and a great de WHEN I first started reading this book I did not realize how closely I would come to identify with this wonderful family. Irish Catholic, oh yes, salmon loaf on Fridays, we had salmon coquettes in cream sauce which I hate to this day. Much younger siblings, priests, the sisters, Catholic school and a family grieving a Father's early death. Yes, to all of those. How the family handled his death and how they changed in the face of it is the main thrust of the story told with honesty and a great deal of humor. Trip back to memory lane with the many culture references of the time, the Dick and Jane books, Brill cream, tootsie rolls and so many more. This was a wonderful tight knit family, trying to get past the death of a father that they all loved. In turns, amusing and poignant, this was a wonderful read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    LindaJ^

    Loved it. I grew up on a farm near three small towns in Maine in the same time period -- I was in the 7th grade when JFK was shot. We did not have a paper mill, but the riverside in one town had a tannery and all its associated odors, while in another town was the shoe factory, which had closed by the time I graduated from college. My uncle was a sewer at the shoe factory and he would sometimes be able to get us low cost seconds (what made them seconds was never clear) in time for school to star Loved it. I grew up on a farm near three small towns in Maine in the same time period -- I was in the 7th grade when JFK was shot. We did not have a paper mill, but the riverside in one town had a tannery and all its associated odors, while in another town was the shoe factory, which had closed by the time I graduated from college. My uncle was a sewer at the shoe factory and he would sometimes be able to get us low cost seconds (what made them seconds was never clear) in time for school to start -- and they did need to last from September through June. The mills in small river towns of Maine provided good jobs but did do a good bit of damage to the rivers. Most are gone and many of the towns less vibrant but for awhile longer they will be alive in the memories of many. "When We Were the Kennedys" will keep those memories alive for new generations.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I definitely liked this book and it is definitely worth reading. Its topic is the death of a loved one, seen particularly through the eyes of a young child. Monica, the author, speaks of her father's death when she was nine years old in 1963, the same year Kennedy was assassinated. How did that death impact her own life, her siblings', her mother's and her uncle’s? You follow first the days, then the seven months and finally the two years without Dad – the "Dad-less days". This is touching, but n I definitely liked this book and it is definitely worth reading. Its topic is the death of a loved one, seen particularly through the eyes of a young child. Monica, the author, speaks of her father's death when she was nine years old in 1963, the same year Kennedy was assassinated. How did that death impact her own life, her siblings', her mother's and her uncle’s? You follow first the days, then the seven months and finally the two years without Dad – the "Dad-less days". This is touching, but never maudlin. The author also makes you laugh. I liked very much following this good, religious family of Catholics. Few books talk about GOOD, upright families with high morals. Definitely refreshing. That is not to say they were faultless. Some of the adults certainly pulled whoppers, but these were good if ordinary people. This book will also take you back to "Memory Lane" - the 1960s, the death of Kennedy and life in a small, American town, in this case Mexico. Yes, this IS a small town in Maine near the border to Canada. I didn't realize how many in the area spoke and breathed French. This is the town of Oxford Paper, that shiny, smooth, glossy paper we all recognize from National Geographics. Do you remember the song Big Girls Don't Cry, the TV show Mr. Ed, the Talking Horse, the school game Red Rover, pedal-pushers and tootsie rolls and....it will all come back when you read this book. To at least some of us. The author narrates her own book. She does it well. She delightfully sings the lyrics of those songs, the oldies we remember so well. This book is true to life and serious and fun too. Pick it up. Read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kerri

    There is no place more personal to me than Mexico, Maine. It's where I grew up and where Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, grew up too. Mexico, improbably, is also the focus of the book I am writing, the one I have been working on for seven years. Naturally, I was curious. So I heeded the advice I often give to other authors: one writer's success is every writer's success. Be generous, not jealous. I tore through her book in an afternoon. Although we a There is no place more personal to me than Mexico, Maine. It's where I grew up and where Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, grew up too. Mexico, improbably, is also the focus of the book I am writing, the one I have been working on for seven years. Naturally, I was curious. So I heeded the advice I often give to other authors: one writer's success is every writer's success. Be generous, not jealous. I tore through her book in an afternoon. Although we are a generation apart and I never knew Wood, she grew up on the street that T-bones the street of my childhood home. She was a communicant of St. Theresa's church, as was I. Her sister and my aunt were chums. Our fathers (all fathers) worked in the paper mill. We shopped at the same local stores (Nery's, Sampson's, Doris's Dress shop -- Doris happens to also be my ninety-seven-year-old aunt), and went on the same vacations (StoryLand, Santa's Village). Our heartstrings pulled at the same tokens of our complicated affections: the "Welcome to Mexico" sign with its un-Maine sombrero, meat pies, the Chicken Coop ("Good Eatin' That's Our Greetin'"), The Rumford Times, Prince Edward Island ancestry, the smell of freshly made paper, the mill. My book-in-progress even touches upon the same themes of inheritance, returning home, family. And on it goes, as does the familiarity and shared memories of a small town. But that is where our stories diverge. The cornerstone of Wood's story pivots upon her father's death in 1963, when she was nine. That he dies is no spoiler, as the book begins with it noted as a plaintive fact. At first blush, this seems a simple story: girl copes with unforeseen death of her father. How Wood comes to terms with his death is where the narrative, ironically, comes to life. Her mourning does not unfold through melancholic rhapsodies or self-indulgent monologue but rather through humor, love, and an exploration of the question people everywhere want to know about everything they don't understand: why? On the subject of Wood's memoir, a childhood friend of mine confessed: "I'm kind of scared to read it. To be honest, I don't know who the Woods are. Naively, I thought we were the only ones." In Mexico, our world was small, smaller than a football field, and anyone outside our circle may as well have been on the moon. We explored the world through textbooks, Matchbox cars, and made dioramas of what we thought a Mayan village or a Midwestern dairy farm looked like. Everything else we needed seemed to be in New Hampshire or Canada. Lives were focused inward and we didn't go much further for friends than hollering distance. I thought we were the only ones too. But Wood gently breaks the news to me: "Who could tell one kid from the next? White kids in similar clothes; Catholic children of millworkers and housewives. We lived in triple-decker apartment buildings -- we called them 'blocks' -- or in nondescript houses that our fathers painted every few years." Wood's point of view is close and penetrating and life in this small town shimmers through her nine-year-old purview, a magical time when a person is not yet scornful but old enough to be vaguely aware of looming adulthood and its concomitant heartache. Wood's "Prologue: My Mexico" (Her Mexico? I was ruffled!) describes the town so precisely I could smell it: The mill. The rumbling, hard-breathing monster that made steam and noise and grit and stench and dreams and livelihoods -- and paper. It possessed a scoured, industrial beauty as awesome and ever-changing as the leaf-plumped hills that surrounded us. It made a world unto itself, overbearing and irrefutable, claiming its ground along the Androscoggin, a wide and roiling river that cracked the floor of our valley like the lifeline on a palm... what bound us, the children, was bigger and stronger and far more alluring than the past. It was the future we shared, the promise of a long and bountiful life. As I read the final paragraphs of the prologue aloud to my husband, I actually cried. All adults, I daresay, find it hard to look back at childhood where the "promise of a long and bountiful life" twinkled like a bright shiny button only to realize many dreams went unfulfilled or got lost along the way. Wood evinces this sentiment without once getting sentimental. The title captures the preteen exploratory phase when young girls step into someone else's shoes -- often famous shoes -- searching for their own identity, something other than "white kids in similar clothes." I remember being drawn to Amelia Earhart, the apes from Planet of the Apes, and Laura Ingalls Wilder (the Melissa Gilbert version). I was Laura, always wanting to punch Nellie Olsen in the face but holding back for fear of god or my parents. I wanted parents like Laura's! They were so kind and understanding! All girls did this. We were on the lookout for heroines who were not our mothers. We sought their "advice." We wanted to be them and be part of their whole fake family when ours wasn't acting the way we wanted it to. Wood tries on for size Jo March, Nancy Drew, and Anne of Green Gables, comparing and contrasting their lives with hers. She admits looking to these chimeras "for instruction" rather than adventure. For a while, she became Nancy Drew, girl guru in finding answers to the question, why? "Isn't a titian hair a fair start? I tap on our walls in search of secret passages, inspect crumples of paper for tossed-away codes." Wood finally settles on the Kennedys as her doppleganger family because all the pieces fit: Caroline and John-John Kennedy just lost their beloved father leaving behind a beautiful shocked and somewhat shamed widow and bereft children. And they are Catholic. By going outside herself and into the umbrae of others, famous or not, Wood's identity begins to form as does the ability to cope with her father's death. And it is comforting that a nation copes with her. Wood's landlords, the Norkuses, figure large in her life. My mother remembers where they lived. "Lithuanian corner we used to call it," she tells me over the phone. The Norkuses, Lithuanian immigrants, lived below the Wood apartment and were always barking, in broken English, rules at the children, with Mrs. Norkus indefatigable: NO GO IN GARDEN! NO CAR IN DRIVEWAY! NOT TOO MUCH GARBAGE! NO BRING FRIEND! NO PUT BIKE ON GRASS! MAKE STOP YOU JUMP! TOO MUCH STAIRS! As the story moves forward, Wood comes to realize her family is not the only one to suffer a tragedy. The Norkuses left their homeland and relatives behind in Lithuania for a better life in America. She imagines them "disembarking in a cold rain, the words Mexico, Maine, pinned to a rotting sleeve... They'd stumbled stiff-kneed down a gangway, impossibly young and yearning to breathe free, a sepia-toned couple..." Why they protected their garden, the garbage, their stairs, Wood confesses, "took me years to know this, to see how loss can tighten your grip on the things still possible to hold." "We were an ordinary family; a mill family, not the stuff of opera," Wood intones. If you are seeking thrills, I suggest another book. Wood's keen observations of everyday life in an everyday sort of town are exciting in a different way. Reading them is comforting, recognizable, because that is how most of us live: we get up, brush our teeth, go to work, and carry on. It's not a memoir of nervous breakdowns and epiphanies (though they are woven in the fabric of this wonderful book); it's a love song to close-knit communities everywhere and what they have given: community, promise, and an inheritance that is as inescapable as one's own DNA. "Here we go people say at these humdrum moments of repetition, the day's momentum released by the turn of a key or the punch of a time card..." What's not humdrum is Wood's writing. Her sentences are rhythmic and every word choice is triumphant, deliberate, and rooted in Maine: "Father Bob is still here, sitting next to the birdcage, breathing like a gut-shot deer" or "The garden memory, like all memory of Dad, lives as a shard of mica embedded in smooth gray stone. This lovely man, irretrievable but through these glints and flickers." For anyone growing up in western Maine, the tantalizing glitter of mica is very real, as real as that childhood promise Wood writes of in her prologue. Wood's biggest coup is this: while Richard Russo's Empire Falls and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (and I admire each book), both take place in Maine, but neither of them get Maine right; they are a flatlander's view of a misunderstood state and perpetuate the oft-unrealistic portrayal of Maine in fiction and beyond. Granted, they were works of fiction, but there's not a "gut-shot deer" to be seen. Living in rural Maine, far away from candle shops and clambakes, near a pulp and paper mill is no seaside fete. Unlike Russo's characters, Wood understands most mill families didn't visit the seaside in the summer, and unlike Elizabeth Strout's Kitteridge, Mainers all are not quirky, stoic, and thus adorable. Wood's story is as real as the filthy river we both grew up on. Where Wood's story ends, my own begins. She leaves Mexico around 1972 for Georgetown University while I was starting kindergarten. In my book, the mill is the main character. In Wood's book, the mill chuffs in the background, filling the town with sulfur dioxide and jobs, an ever-present Wizard of Oz. The only Mexico we knew was this one, ours, with its single main street and its one bowling alley and its convent and church steeples and our fathers over there, just across the river, toiling inside a brick-and-steel complex with heaven-high smokestacks that shot great, gorgeous steam clouds into the air so steadily we couldn't tell where mill left off and sky began. Wood writes, "People die either unexpectedly or after lingering" and in Mexico death is typically via heart attack or cancer, the former one of my father's biggest fears come to fruition in the 1980s when he had a triple bypass. Wood and I inherited many good things yes, however, with the good comes the bad. The continuous huffing and puffing of the mill in Wood's book is like a mantra everyone in the community hummed to themselves. He practically lived there. The work will kill him. He practically lived there. The work will kill him. And it did. And killed many more good men. And it will probably kill me from the poisons I swam in, gulped down, or breathed in during my formative years. When I told her I was reviewing her book she wrote, "We can call it 'our' Mexico." Wood's generosity as a writer and a person is profound.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Mexico, Maine is my hometown. I am three years younger than this author. Monica Wood was in my brother's class all through school. Reading this memoir was an amazing journey back to childhood for me. The names and places are still alive in my memory. But Monica Wood was able to create a masterpiece out of the childhood I walked through without seeing. Her descriptions of our town were exquisite ... her recollections of her family events profound. Readers who do not have the experiences of living Mexico, Maine is my hometown. I am three years younger than this author. Monica Wood was in my brother's class all through school. Reading this memoir was an amazing journey back to childhood for me. The names and places are still alive in my memory. But Monica Wood was able to create a masterpiece out of the childhood I walked through without seeing. Her descriptions of our town were exquisite ... her recollections of her family events profound. Readers who do not have the experiences of living in this town will certainly find themselves drawn back to places and events from their childhood as well. It takes a very gifted writer to do what Monica has done in this book. Read it! It's a MUST READ!!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I will read anything Monica Wood writes. Her prose is nothing short of astounding. This is a memoir of the sudden death of her father in 1963 when Monica is in 4th grade. I liked this and the beat of her family with and without the man is well-told. That said, I wasn't completely riveted. I'm not sure I'm meant to be. It's a quiet kind of memoir. I thought the connection between the Kennedy assassination and her loss (especially as witnessed via her mother) is quite poignant. The mom felt a cert I will read anything Monica Wood writes. Her prose is nothing short of astounding. This is a memoir of the sudden death of her father in 1963 when Monica is in 4th grade. I liked this and the beat of her family with and without the man is well-told. That said, I wasn't completely riveted. I'm not sure I'm meant to be. It's a quiet kind of memoir. I thought the connection between the Kennedy assassination and her loss (especially as witnessed via her mother) is quite poignant. The mom felt a certain kinship with Jackie and wasn't that the crux of the Kennedy appeal? Still, that connection came way too late for me to truly love the book. It's a beautiful comparison and quite visual. I could picture her mother's reactions, her "interaction" with Jackie (albeit through a TV screen). But it didn't fully work for an entire book. Maybe a short story or magazine article. Nonetheless, anything Monica Wood pens is beautiful and worthy of at least 3 stars.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This is the best book I've read in a long, long time. It's wonderful on many levels: the conversational, family-centric tone; the mix of pathos, humor and everyday living; the remembered details (and those that the author only thinks she remembers, as the afterword suggests); the moral underpinnings of life and work, 50 years ago, in a small town in Maine utterly dependent on the paper mill that caused its existence. The author even gives us a wonderful, what-happened-to-everyone epilogue. Becaus This is the best book I've read in a long, long time. It's wonderful on many levels: the conversational, family-centric tone; the mix of pathos, humor and everyday living; the remembered details (and those that the author only thinks she remembers, as the afterword suggests); the moral underpinnings of life and work, 50 years ago, in a small town in Maine utterly dependent on the paper mill that caused its existence. The author even gives us a wonderful, what-happened-to-everyone epilogue. Because, at that point, I want to know what happened to every single real-life character who graced the page. By the last page, I was sobbing. And the writing is 100% delicious. Strongly recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Poignant memoir about the author’s Irish Catholic family, living in the small town of Mexico, Maine in the early 1960s. Albert Wood, the author’s father, worked as a foreman for the Oxford Paper Company, the major employer in town. One morning on his way to work he suffered a heart attack and died, leaving his wife with two grown children and three younger daughters. Monica was in the fourth grade. While her mother gives in to grief, Monica seeks ways to cope, from immersion in Nancy Drew books t Poignant memoir about the author’s Irish Catholic family, living in the small town of Mexico, Maine in the early 1960s. Albert Wood, the author’s father, worked as a foreman for the Oxford Paper Company, the major employer in town. One morning on his way to work he suffered a heart attack and died, leaving his wife with two grown children and three younger daughters. Monica was in the fourth grade. While her mother gives in to grief, Monica seeks ways to cope, from immersion in Nancy Drew books to latching on to her friends’ families. Just as Monica’s mother is becoming attuned to her family’s needs again, President Kennedy –much revered by the Wood family-- is assassinated. The perceived common experience shared by the Woods and the Kennedys seems to be cathartic for the whole family, as they take steps toward a new normalcy. The author excels at telling the story from the often-confused point of view of a child. Except for Albert’s death, the book mostly covers the small events that eventually make up a life. The relationship between Monica and her sisters is beautifully written. Monica’s emerging awareness of what goes on in the world around her is subtly demonstrated when the paper mill experiences its first strike. Finally, one of the best things that can be included in a memoir: the reader learns a little bit about where everyone in the family eventually ends up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Nostalgia for Nancy Drew books, First Friday service, rules for the stairs- so much here that this memoir brought back in full measure. Because it is written in the reality of a 9 year old or near the ending, for the cognition of 18- it also holds a frenetic quality. Which so translates into this condition of mid-century working class family and era. That's just how it was. Bad things happened and no one blamed anybody else for the happening. Solace and prayer shared. Humor and food. Go back to Nostalgia for Nancy Drew books, First Friday service, rules for the stairs- so much here that this memoir brought back in full measure. Because it is written in the reality of a 9 year old or near the ending, for the cognition of 18- it also holds a frenetic quality. Which so translates into this condition of mid-century working class family and era. That's just how it was. Bad things happened and no one blamed anybody else for the happening. Solace and prayer shared. Humor and food. Go back to work. Looking at such closeness to the Norkus landlords. And the rules, purposes, reactions. Yes, that's the way it was. Red Rover and Statue Maker was good for 10 minute run but structured. Our favorites were far more spur of the moment pile ups like "First to See the Street Lights Come On". So many of us, a vast number within tons of street freedom and innocent protection. Monica Wood does grab the feeling of those days in her memories of play and classroom.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rosemarie Donzanti

    A sweet memoir about growing up Catholic in a small town in the 60’s. Oh yes, so much for me to relate to here. Mass, Catholic school, nuns, homework, friends, family dinners...I can almost smell the crayons and purple ink. Life is good and very predictable until the sudden death of Monica's Father. Nobody is fatherless in her town and Mom has changed. When John F. Kennedy is assasinated the most celebrated Catholic children in the country become relatable to the suffering Wood family. Their tra A sweet memoir about growing up Catholic in a small town in the 60’s. Oh yes, so much for me to relate to here. Mass, Catholic school, nuns, homework, friends, family dinners...I can almost smell the crayons and purple ink. Life is good and very predictable until the sudden death of Monica's Father. Nobody is fatherless in her town and Mom has changed. When John F. Kennedy is assasinated the most celebrated Catholic children in the country become relatable to the suffering Wood family. Their tragedy is a nation's tragedy and Monica finds herself and her place as the family heals from their sudden, tragic loss. An enjoyable read that brought me back to my childhood. ❤️

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca McPhedran

    This is the story of Monica Woods. She grew up in a mill town in Mexico, Maine. Her father died the same year that John F. Kennedy died, so she felt like they "shared a burden" in her 10 year old mind. Her writing is so vivid you can palpably feel the loss she's endured. You can almost hear the mill breathing, and smell the mill air (which smells like nothing else, I know, I'm a Mainah). An amazing book. A book that speaks to loss, to work, to finding yourself and your place, even when the piece This is the story of Monica Woods. She grew up in a mill town in Mexico, Maine. Her father died the same year that John F. Kennedy died, so she felt like they "shared a burden" in her 10 year old mind. Her writing is so vivid you can palpably feel the loss she's endured. You can almost hear the mill breathing, and smell the mill air (which smells like nothing else, I know, I'm a Mainah). An amazing book. A book that speaks to loss, to work, to finding yourself and your place, even when the pieces don't seem to fit together.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Easily my favorite book of 2012, this exquisite memoir set in a Maine mill town starts out seeming like a deceptively small story — the sad tale of a tragic year (1963-64) in one family's life — but expands chapter by chapter into a profound meditation on time, identity, and faith. Easily my favorite book of 2012, this exquisite memoir set in a Maine mill town starts out seeming like a deceptively small story — the sad tale of a tragic year (1963-64) in one family's life — but expands chapter by chapter into a profound meditation on time, identity, and faith.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    First of all the cover of this book is very misleading, however the book is a great read. The book has NOTHING to do with the beach or the beaches of Maine. Anyone familiar with Maine knows that most of the State is not "Vacationland" what so ever, and that is the Maine that this book addresses. The book is set in the early 60s, in a Maine milltown, when men could support their entire large families on wages from working class jobs. The story is a true memoir of Monica Wood's experiences. Growing up First of all the cover of this book is very misleading, however the book is a great read. The book has NOTHING to do with the beach or the beaches of Maine. Anyone familiar with Maine knows that most of the State is not "Vacationland" what so ever, and that is the Maine that this book addresses. The book is set in the early 60s, in a Maine milltown, when men could support their entire large families on wages from working class jobs. The story is a true memoir of Monica Wood's experiences. Growing up in New England, I knew many families like hers. French Canadians, and other immigrants, mostly Catholic who left the beauty of their homeland to work in the factories and try and give their children a better life. She does a wonderful job of interweaving the strong Catholic influence of the time and location. Monica's world falls apart when she is nine and her chain smoking father drops dead, not even making it into his sixties. Her stay at home mother, does not cope all that well. Neither does her Priest Uncle. How Monica and her sisters pull together and help each other heal, even as children, is heartwarming. They prove how much strength their father had and taught them. Monica's friend Denise, whose family steps up to the plate to fill in where her mother is unable, is an inspiration. The fact the JFK is assasinated shortly after, really pulls the story together. That her isolated mother now has a comrade, someone she can relate to helps them all heal. The turning point of the family coming together is just so sweet. How they honor their father at the end of the book, really brought tears to my eyes. A great read, but this is not a fluffy beach read. Not really happy with whoever chose the cover of this book. A child dealing with a parent's death, is not "fun at the shore".

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    In April of 1963, as novelist Monica Wood was getting ready for another day in fourth grade, the terrible news that her father died suddenly on his way to work forever changes her family. Later in 1963 the Woods family will be joined in mourning s the entire nation is stunned by the assassination of President Kennedy. Forty-nine years later these events will become the heartfelt When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico Maine. Albert Wood, father of two adult children and the surprising th In April of 1963, as novelist Monica Wood was getting ready for another day in fourth grade, the terrible news that her father died suddenly on his way to work forever changes her family. Later in 1963 the Woods family will be joined in mourning s the entire nation is stunned by the assassination of President Kennedy. Forty-nine years later these events will become the heartfelt When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico Maine. Albert Wood, father of two adult children and the surprising three late in life girls had worked for the Oxford Paper Company for years before his untimely death, as have most of the men in the town of Mexico Maine. Woods takes readers back to a seemingly more benevolent time in history, when generations of families remained in the small towns that supported and nurtured them. By 1963 times have begun to change. The town is tense with the talk of a strike at the mill, an indicator of the direction of the many woes that will befall manufacturing towns in the years following. While Woods skillfully incorporates these changes into her memoir, it is the death of President Kennedy and subsequent mourning of the nation that will touch reader’s hearts. It is evident that the assassination assists the Woods family on their own very personal grieving process. Monica Wood and her young sisters immediately identify with Caroline Kennedy, who is also now fatherless; and Monica’s Mum is forever drawn to Mrs. Kennedy who illustrates an ability to remain strong in her grief. It is perhaps the country’s defining moment that allows the Woods family to move forward in their loss and to begin to live again. Poignant and unforgettable, When We Were the Kennedys is at once both a moving family memoir, and a keen observation of the turning points of history; it should have broad appeal to many readers.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    The author really is a beautiful writer. One can perfectly conjure an image of the town of Mexico, the time, the architecture, and especially the mill. I do wish the author had really described her characters a little sooner, though, and in some cases more completely. I can imagine it must be very difficult to accurately describe the people to whom one is so close. You can describe their tone of voice or they way they walk, the things that make them *them* to you; but the details that make a "ch The author really is a beautiful writer. One can perfectly conjure an image of the town of Mexico, the time, the architecture, and especially the mill. I do wish the author had really described her characters a little sooner, though, and in some cases more completely. I can imagine it must be very difficult to accurately describe the people to whom one is so close. You can describe their tone of voice or they way they walk, the things that make them *them* to you; but the details that make a "character" come alive for a stranger are so commonplace to the author as to seem unimportant - so familiar that it doesn't occur to the author to even mention them. Therefore, imagining the people that inhabit the book was much more difficult than imagining their surroundings. For example, the book begins with her father's death and, while we see how devastating this is for her family, we don't know them or him at all. It isn't until about half-way through the book that we get to know this deceased father as anything but that, and to understand what a hole he left in the family. (Much better-described are the other citizens of Mexico, particularly the Lithuanian-immigrant landlords [who are hilariously uptight].) Regardless of a few pitfalls (character description, over-long tangents into paper-making and mill labor disputes), by the end, the reader does care for the characters in the book, sympathize with them when misery befalls them, and celebrate when there is joy. By no means are the circumstances described in the book extraordinary - this could be the story of any number of people's lives, including my own mother's - but in the end that what makes the reader able to become involved as deeply as s/he does. **I received this book through a goodreads giveaway**

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy (Bossy Bookworm)

    ICYMI: A book I loved Wood's memoir is captivating and lovely, poignant, sweet without being overly sentimental, and just all-around wonderful. In 1963 the Woods were a typical Catholic immigrant family in Mexico, Maine. Dad worked for the local paper mill alongside countless other immigrants, and the family had a steady life. But when Monica's father died suddenly, Monica and her three sisters began to drift. Father Bob, their mother's brother, tried to be the ballast the family needed. Then Mon ICYMI: A book I loved Wood's memoir is captivating and lovely, poignant, sweet without being overly sentimental, and just all-around wonderful. In 1963 the Woods were a typical Catholic immigrant family in Mexico, Maine. Dad worked for the local paper mill alongside countless other immigrants, and the family had a steady life. But when Monica's father died suddenly, Monica and her three sisters began to drift. Father Bob, their mother's brother, tried to be the ballast the family needed. Then Monica's mother became inspired after the tragic death of John F. Kennedy, and she insisted on a family road trip to Washington, D.C. The trip was an initial, unexpected step toward the healing Monica and her family desperately needed. When We Were the Kennedys is about grieving deeply, leaning on family and community in a crisis and in common suffering, and figuring out the impossible: how to move on after devastating tragedy. Wood gorgeously evokes the many characters and unfathomable events that changed her family's existence--as well as that of her community and the entire country--in 1963. Oh, how I loved this book! Wood's memoir is heartwarming and funny and tragic and vivid. This memoir is fantastic. I ate it up in a single day. For my full review of this book on the Bossy Bookworm, please see When We Were the Kennedys.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marne

    Like "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," except the tree grew in Maine and was made into paper. Disclaimer: I grew up in Maine, my uncle and several of my very good friends work in paper mills, and I have recently discovered the beauty which is Monica Wood's writing. (I just finished One-In-A-Million Boy.) Odds were good I would enjoy this memoir. And I did. It was touching, poignant, and so well written. I felt very similar to A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, mostly because of the timeframe, excellent writing a Like "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," except the tree grew in Maine and was made into paper. Disclaimer: I grew up in Maine, my uncle and several of my very good friends work in paper mills, and I have recently discovered the beauty which is Monica Wood's writing. (I just finished One-In-A-Million Boy.) Odds were good I would enjoy this memoir. And I did. It was touching, poignant, and so well written. I felt very similar to A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, mostly because of the timeframe, excellent writing and that it was a coming-of-age story about a young girl. But a Maine mill town and Brooklyn are two very different creatures. I can't do Wood's book justice without quoting directly: "The mill. The rumbling, hard-breathing monster that made steam and noise and grit and stench and dreams and livelihoods -- and paper." (Regarding her sister) "This is how Betty dances: Like a phone pole. A fence picket. A frozen hen. Hopeless." (Her uncle- a beloved priest) "He has this way of sounding simultaneously chummy and formal, making a child the delectable center of something rare and memorable." (And ultimately, her stance on books) "I'd always loved books for their reassuring heft, for their promise of new words, for their air of mystery, for the characters who lived in them, for the sublime pleasure of disappearing." This memoir was indeed a sublime pleasure.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Betty

    I love this memoir. I was maybe a little inclined to love it anyway, because I came to the book already liking Monica Wood's writing (and her sense of humor), and it didn't hurt that I live in Maine, and was brought up small-town Catholic. I like what another reviewer, who knew Wood in school - says "...but Monica Wood was able to create a masterpiece out of the childhood I walked through without seeing." It reminded me of one thing Wood says about her father: "Dad talked about (Prince Edward Is I love this memoir. I was maybe a little inclined to love it anyway, because I came to the book already liking Monica Wood's writing (and her sense of humor), and it didn't hurt that I live in Maine, and was brought up small-town Catholic. I like what another reviewer, who knew Wood in school - says "...but Monica Wood was able to create a masterpiece out of the childhood I walked through without seeing." It reminded me of one thing Wood says about her father: "Dad talked about (Prince Edward Island) all the time, told all those affectionate tales, made his homeland seem like a celebration he'd carried with him rather than a heartache he'd left behind." So Wood has written a wry and gentle celebration - from the Gregory Orr poem she prefaces the memoir with, all the way to the Jane Austen style epilogue.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    A candid look at growing up in a time when truths were either sugar coated or ignored, and surviving them. The Catholic angle is not preachy, but an accurate reflection on how life was addressed. The author used a substantial amount of vocabulary that made me grateful for e-reader dictionary (even as a Cradle Catholic with 13+ years of Catholic education and several cousins & friends in the Priesthood, I never heard the term "rabat" for the vest-like article of clerical clothing). However, none A candid look at growing up in a time when truths were either sugar coated or ignored, and surviving them. The Catholic angle is not preachy, but an accurate reflection on how life was addressed. The author used a substantial amount of vocabulary that made me grateful for e-reader dictionary (even as a Cradle Catholic with 13+ years of Catholic education and several cousins & friends in the Priesthood, I never heard the term "rabat" for the vest-like article of clerical clothing). However, none of it was condescending or gratuitous - it propelled the story forward by underlining an author's early fascination with words. I don't think it will achieve the heights and durations of the author's much read Nancy Drew series or Anne of Green Gables, but it's a worthwhile summer read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I have to admit I didn't read the description well and initially thought this was about the Kennedy's. It's not. It's about a family in Maine. Still good- just not at all what I thought. They sure didn't seem much like the Kennedy's and the title is a stretch, but I appreciated the descriptions of a Catholic family in the 1960's. I have to admit I didn't read the description well and initially thought this was about the Kennedy's. It's not. It's about a family in Maine. Still good- just not at all what I thought. They sure didn't seem much like the Kennedy's and the title is a stretch, but I appreciated the descriptions of a Catholic family in the 1960's.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katharine Davis

    A heart-warming memoir. I loved this book and at the last page I hugged it to me and didn't want to let it go. Beautiful writing and a memorable story! A heart-warming memoir. I loved this book and at the last page I hugged it to me and didn't want to let it go. Beautiful writing and a memorable story!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Bensman

    When We Were the Kennedy's: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, by Monica Wood, piercingly captures a Catholic childhood in a small American mill town. Here the mill is the center of life. This wonderful book is a study in family, grief, childhood impressions and aspirations. A beautiful book. When We Were the Kennedy's: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, by Monica Wood, piercingly captures a Catholic childhood in a small American mill town. Here the mill is the center of life. This wonderful book is a study in family, grief, childhood impressions and aspirations. A beautiful book.

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