An illuminating new biography of the young Jackie Bouvier Kennedy that covers her formative adventures abroad in Paris; her life as a writer and photographer at a Washington, DC, newspaper; and her romance with a dashing, charismatic Massachusetts congressman who shared her intellectual passion.
Camera Girl brings to cinematic life Jackie’s years as a young, single woman trying to figure out who she wanted to become. Chafing at the expectations of her family and the societal limitations placed on women in that era, Jackie pursued her dream of becoming a writer. Set primarily during the years of 1949 to 1953, when Jackie was in her early twenties, the book recounts in heretofore unrevealed detail the story of her late college years and her early adulthood as a working woman.
Before she met Jack Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier was the Washington Times-Herald ’s “Inquiring Camera Girl,” posing compelling questions to members of the public on the streets of DC and snapping their photos with her unwieldy Graflex camera. She then fashioned the results into a daily column, of which six hundred were published.
Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian and leading expert on First Ladies, draws on these columns and previously unseen archives of Jackie’s writings from this time, along with insights gleaned from interviews he conducted with the former First Lady’s friends, colleagues, and family members. Camera Girl offers a fresh perspective on the woman later known as Jacqueline Kennedy and Jackie O, introducing us to the headstrong, self-assured young woman who went on to be one of the world’s most famous people. It’s a glamorous and surprisingly hard-charging story of a person determined to define herself, told with admiration, empathy, and journalistic rigor.
Camera Girl (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible)
I know a lot about the Kennedys from years of reading books about them, but besides the historical fiction novels #ARCReview: Jackie’s Paris (The Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Collection #1) and And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, I hadn’t really explored Jacqueline Kennedy’s life before she became a Kennedy. The historical novels were a good start, but the real story is just as interesting as any fiction book.
Jacqueline Bouvier was born to a philandering stockbroker and a woman who cared more about how one appeared to everyone else rather than how good of a human being they were. Jackie was the oldest of two children the couple had, but they eventually divorced and did all the manipulative things divorced parents sometimes do in order to curry favor with their kids. It really is amazing how well Jacqueline turned out considering how toxic both her parents were.
Bouvier’s mother, Janet, remarried a very rich man and along with him came step and half-siblings. Jackie became very close with her step-brother Yusha and many of the recollections in this book are taken from letters written to and from Yusha to Jackie or Jackie to him. I always find it amazing that letters of famous people written years prior still survive. I can’t say I saved any letters from my husband during the time we were dating and lived in different cities, although I know he kept mine, so maybe it’s a generational thing. There are plenty of letters to and from other people in Jackie’s orbit during her years before he became Mrs. John F. Kennedy.
Much time was spent discussing Jacqueline’s two trips to Europe, one as an exchange student to the Sorbonne and the other as a graduation gift to her younger sister, Lee, where she acted as a guide because she was so familiar with the places they visited. She had grand plans of making a life for herself in Paris after she graduated college, and entered a magazine contest which would send her back to France if she won. Well, she did win, but her manipulative parents kept her from going.
Instead, Jacqueline got herself a job at a Washington, D.C. daily paper as the Inquiring Camera Girl, going out on the streets and interviewing people by asking any questions that popped into her head. A study of the daily questions revealed that Jackie was having an internal debate regarding being a working woman, which is what she wanted, or succumbing to society’s norms and marrying and having children, which she also wanted, just not as much. She interviewed men and women from all classes, including Senators and Congressmen. It was while Jackie had this job that she met another former journalist and now Congressman John Kennedy of Massachusetts.
I thought this book did a great job telling Jackie’s life as a young adult and her courtship with JFK. The fact that there’s so much source material in terms of letters to and from Jacqueline, as well as her various articles she wrote before hanging up her journalist hat when she married Kennedy, all added to the overall story arc of how these experiences formed a basis for how she lived her life during and after the White House.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review; all opinions expressed are my own.
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