Title: Jack 1939
Author: Francine Mathews
Release Date: July 5, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
The year is 1939 and John F. Kennedy, future president of the United States, is just twenty-two years old. He’s determined to overcome his physician’s health concerns and make a planned trip around Europe for the summer and is shocked when he’s approached by none other than the current president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR believes that war is coming and wants an insider’s picture of what’s going on in Germany. Because the US had no official spy network, FDR recruits Jack Kennedy for the job.
I’ll admit it: When I first heard about Jack 1939, I wasn’t very interested. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Kennedy family. However, I love history and the idea of a spy novel centered around a historical figure intrigued me. Then I started hearing positive early reviews of the book, so I decided to give it a chance, and I’m so glad I did. Jack 1939 is an exciting romp with a well-imagined young Jack Kennedy at its center.
Jack 1939 is based on a real trip that Kennedy took across Europe during the summer of his senior year in college. Many of the details surrounding the trip are fiction; it’s important to remember that most of the novel is a product of Mathews’ imagination. That being said, the author does an incredibly good job of melding fact and fiction, fantasy and history. The product is an exciting novel that’s thrilling to read from beginning to end.
It’s so fun to imagine a younger, more carefree Jack Kennedy, and Mathews’ portrayal of him in Jack 1939 is convincing. Less interesting is his love interest for the novel, Diana Playfair. Her motives are shrouded in mystery, which makes for an intriguing backstory, but her personality is a bit difficult. The reader never warms to her, nor do they understand Jack’s attraction to her beyond simple lust. As the romantic storyline is a main part of the book, this detracted from my enjoyment of the novel.
The conspiracy-esque storyline surrounded by historic pre-World War II events is what really makes Jack 1939 worth reading. It’s riveting to read about Jack Kennedy navigating these difficult waters and making discoveries he doesn’t want to, and readers will enjoy trying to puzzle out how the novel will come together in the end. All in all, it’s a quick, exciting read that readers should definitely consider.