The President Has Been Shot! The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson. Scholastic. 2013. YALSA Nonfiction Award Shortlist.
The Good: The past November — the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK — I watched a lot of specials and documentaries about Kennedy, his life, his presidency, his death, the assassination, the aftermath.
While “where were you when Kennedy was shot” is a defining question for the generation before mine, a moment of cultural unity, a loss of innocence.
For the rest of us, it’s a story. A story known from fragments, here and there: a short home video; a handful of photographs; names and moments, recognized before they were understood or comprehended.
Swanson tells the story of Kennedy; and I’m reminded of why it is I like young adult fiction. Because it can get to the point and explain things so succinctly. There are books written just about the Bay of Pigs: Swanson explains it in a handful of pages. It’s all you need, really; and if the reader wants more, they can pursue that independently.
Swanson takes the reader through the days of Kennedy’s assassination, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, the murder of Oswald, Kennedy’s funeral. And it shows just why, well, why this is a fascinating subject. Swanson shows the Kennedy mystique: the looks, the family, the charm, and it’s that mystique that continues to attract attention. In this one volume, a reader can find out about Kennedy’s family, see him with his young children — children so young that it made Kennedy himself seem younger than his 46 years.
And then the surprise and the horror of Oswald killing Kennedy, and the aftermath. Swanson gives enough details to satisfy a curiosity — why is this so important, still, that any show set in the past has to have a JFK episode? Why are we shown how fake people react to a real death? And, along, the way, the reader moves from curious to engaged, to caring about the young widow in her bloodstained clothes.
Also: I loved all the photographs, maps, charts, and other material to help show the people and places.