Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: "The President Has Been Shot!"

"The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John  F. Kennedy
By James L. Swanson
Published 2013 by Scholastic Press

It's a moment that our nation will never forget - John F. Kennedy, one of our most charismatic presidents, assassinated in Dallas. In this book, Swanson recounts the events leading up to that terrible moment - and the consequences felt nationwide.

This was the last of the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction titles I read before the awards were announced - actually, I think I might have finished it right after the announcement. Either way, I waited impatiently for a copy to come in at the library - I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas a couple years ago, a very interesting experience.

The Kennedy assassination is a moment in history that I've heard about my whole life. My parents were both too young to remember it (though it did happen on my father's birthday). I've heard the conspiracies surrounding the assassination my whole life as well. It's a moment in history that continues to fascinate us. Reading Swanson's account makes it easy to see why.

Swanson has done an excellent job of crafting a compelling narrative of the days leading up to the assassination and the people involved. Readers learn about John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Lee Harvey Oswald. It's fascinating to read about all these individuals, knowing that their lives are about to intersect in one terrible way. While I understand some people's reluctance to learn about Lee Harvey Oswald (and other sensational killers), I found Swanson's account of his life completely engrossing. I had no idea what kind of life he'd lived and what drove him to this defining act.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is how "in the moment" Swanson makes readers feel. It was frustrating to read small instances where, if only a different choice had been made, the assassination might have been avoided. I appreciated that Swanson took the story into the assassination of Oswald as well - an action that should never have occurred. To me, it's quite clear that Swanson did an immense amount of research to present the story as he did, providing information and insights that were entirely new to me (so sure to be new to young readers). The photos that accompany the text are excellently chosen as well.

An awesome example of meaty non-fiction to hand to middle-grade/young adult readers.

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