WANTING TO BE JACKIE KENNEDY is a heartwarming story of love, loss, and family secrets told by Ellie Manikowski who returns to her hometown of Chicago in 1994 to celebrate her 50th birthday. The news of the death of her childhood idol, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, propels Ellie back to her old Polish neighborhood and into bittersweet memories of her teenage years.
That summer, the flats above the Manikowski Funeral Home are abuzz with sexual intrigue. While Ellie is involved with her first love, Duke, her beloved Aunt Nina, who lives downstairs, is enmeshed in a steamy love affair of her own. At summer’s end, a tragedy occurs that threatens the family’s sterling reputation and Ellie's faith. What Ellie has witnessed must be kept secret, and secrets take their toll on her. In desperation she turns to her idol, Jackie Kennedy, who is mysteriously there for her when she feels abandoned by everyone else.
It’s 1963 and President Kennedy is assassinated. The world and Ellie are devastated. Watching Jackie grieve at her husband’s casket, Ellie’s girlish obsession transforms into an adult kind of admiration that holds her in good stead when years later she faces the ultimate disaster in her own life.
In WANTING TO BE JACKIE KENNEDY, Elizabeth Kern juxtaposes the down-to-earth lives of the Manikowskis with the privileged lives of the Kennedys, and points out that in times of tragedy and celebration, close-knit families are all alike, and that a certain indomitable grace can pull us through.
Here's What Readers
Have to Say . . .
“Fueled by vivid descriptions and powerful atmospherics, Ellie’s memories of her adolescence are simultaneously pleasant . . . and heartrending . . . The author's voice is impressive as themes of religion—its significance or lack thereof—are sounded. Historical landmarks and references blend with a compelling storyline to create a nostalgic, moving story that will resonate with young adults and adult readers alike.”
—Publishers Weekly, Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Review
“Kern draws on her rich Polish heritage and the Camelot era of the early ‘60s to give us a portrait of a family that is laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, and beautifully written.”
—Thomas Terlikowski, Backstreets
"This story is universal. It will appeal to young adult readers who will identify with Ellie even though she lived in a time gone by. And it will appeal to older readers, those who remember this time in our history and will relish reading it again. Elizabeth Kern draws indelible pictures with her words and easily recaptures a unique time in America's history. I was there with Ellie and didn't want to leave."
— Janet Snyder, Mendocino County, California
“Being of a certain age myself, I could share Ellie’s longing as she returned to the neighborhood of her youth, trying to recapture a sense of time and place. The Kennedy inauguration, Walter Cronkite, black and white TV, a hassock—things I had forgotten
--Winnie Broughan, Newport, Rhode Island
“Elizabeth Kern’s writing is so authentic that I feel like I am there with Ellie riding beside her on her journey back in time. I grew up in the time period described in this novel, and Ms. Kern’s writing is right on track. I feel like I know her neighborhood and her characters intimately . . . Also as a teacher of middle school students I know they will find this time period fascinating. Even so many years after his passing when you mention John Kennedy in a classroom, the students perk up. Why was this time so special? What made this man and his wife so memorable, so different? Young adults and mature readers will find this book hard to put down. The characters are vibrant, funny, and identifiable. The setting is so different from the fast-paced modern day. Party-line telephones, sharing your phone connection, perhaps with a stranger. Students with cell phones in their pockets will shake their heads in disbelief. There is also fascination with a girl whose father is an undertaker. WANTING TO BE JACKIE KENNEDY begs for discussion after reading.”
—Barbara Arendt, Arlington Heights, Illinois
"Elizabeth Kern has thoughtfully and gracefully launched us into the mysteries of undertaking, Polish culture, troubles in the Roman Catholic church, and world events in this coming of age story. Readers will be seduced by the graceful writing and those old enough to remember Camelot will understand the era and what Jackie meant on a personal level . . . a nostalgic ride with twists and turns, and a jolt of American history."
—Kate Campbell "Kate Campbell's Word Garden," Sacramento, California