When JFK Was My Father

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It's 1963 and thirteen-year-old Georgia decides to pretend that JFK is her father, certain that he won't let her down - unlike her own father, who is too busy with work and a love affair to pay much attention to her. Georgia's world is turned upside down when she and her mother leave their home in Brazil and return to the United States, where Georgia is immediately packed off to a boarding school. At school Georgia fails almost all of her classes and feels as if she'll never fit in with the other girls. But as ...

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Overview

It's 1963 and thirteen-year-old Georgia decides to pretend that JFK is her father, certain that he won't let her down - unlike her own father, who is too busy with work and a love affair to pay much attention to her. Georgia's world is turned upside down when she and her mother leave their home in Brazil and return to the United States, where Georgia is immediately packed off to a boarding school. At school Georgia fails almost all of her classes and feels as if she'll never fit in with the other girls. But as time passes, and with the help of her English teacher, some friendly voices, and her own growing self-awareness, Georgia begins to realize her self-worth and the true significance of her three most treasured possessions: a pebble from her friend Tim, her stamp collection, and her photograph of JFK. She also discovers many truths about the people in her life.

Feeling neglected by her father in Brazil and her mother in Washington, D.C., Georgia Hughes tries to cope with life at a boarding school in Connecticut by imagining relationships with John Kennedy and Miss Beard, the ghost of the former headmistress of the school.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
When 14-year-old Georgia Hughes' mother finds out about her husband's other woman, she whisks Georgia from Brazil back to the U.S. and the Beard Boarding School. With her world turned upside down, Georgia can cling to a few things: the moonstone given to her by a special boy named Tim and a picture of John F. Kennedy. Georgia decides that JFK is her real father and spends much of her time in an intense, imaginary relationship, which keeps her from paying too much attention to nasty classmates and clueless teachers. When Tim appears at Beard, wanting her to run away with him, Georgia must decide how unhappy she really is and what course she wants her new life to take. Gordon writes in a vivid, defining style that allows Georgia to emerge as a fresh, fully realized character. Her relationships with both JFK and the long-dead founder of Beard seem as honest and true as the more problematic relationships she has with her fellow students. The plot turns will hold readers, but Georgia's reasons for those turns are not always developed. Although the 1960s setting does not play a prominent role in the book, Georgia's affection for JFK captures some of Kennedy's magic and accurately mirrors what so many felt for their young, handsome president.
Booklist, ALA

In February of 1963, Georgia adopts John F. Kennedy as her father, preferring an imaginary but warm relationship with him to the emotional void of her own parents. She has little interest in either studying or making friends at the American School she attends in Rio, but on holiday at the family's beach house, Georgia immediately connects with fellow misfit Tim, who calls himself the Sand Prince and tells Georgia she is his Sand Princess. Shortly thereafter, Georgia's parents split, and she and her mother return to the States, where Georgia is shipped off to the only boarding school that will accept her. Once a leader in progressive education, the Beard School now seems to be merely a repository for girls from wealthy families. Georgia's account of her virtual abandonment at school by her parents and her barely conscious search for a home is both poignant and gently funny. Georgia often hears the voice of the deceased founder of the school, Wilma Beard (who offers surprisingly practical advice). Moving between the tangible world and the one inside her head, Georgia fails to fully engage at school: "For a solid week there was a flurry of testing. It gradually dawned on me that the tests were related to midterm grades....I was shocked." But even as she drifts from the hard facts of reality-it is easier to say that her real father is dead than admit to his lack of interest in her-she looks through the false exteriors of people to see the truth behind them. When the chance comes to escape altogether by running away with the Sand Prince, Georgia chooses the real world at last, discovering that she's more at home at Beard than any other place she's been. The novel is well paced with moments of dramatic tension—as when Georgia is locked in the school's attic by jealous classmates—and is peopled with interesting characters, who are vividly revealed in Georgia's refreshing narrative.
Horn Book

A believable look at life in boarding school in the 1960s, made surreal by the narrator's fantasy that she is John F. Kennedy's daughter, and her conversations with the school's long-dead founder. Right before they separate, Georgia's mother and father take her on vacation to a resort not far from their home in Rio de Janeiro. Georgia, shy and confused, meets Tim, a sensitive boy who shares her interest in stamps and whose parents are just as screwed-up as hers are. Their idyll is short-lived; soon Georgia's father is in Rio with his girlfriend, her mother settles into Washington, D.C., and Georgia is off to Connecticut, to the only boarding school that will take her. As she retreats more and more into a fantasy that her real father is JFK, Georgia has trouble finding friends, doesn't like her teachers, and ends up with a terrible report card. In her head she talks to Mrs. Beard, the down-to-earth founder of the school, deceased but apparently still able to help Georgia out of a jam. Tim makes a reappearance; he's run away from a nearby boy's school, but now he seems more peculiar than poetic. He wants Georgia to run away with him, but she, learning of the uproar at the school in the early hours of her disappearance and reeling from the news that JFK has been assassinated, decides that the students and teachers are her real family and refuge. Gordon's title and the premise offer more to adults than young readers, who won't understand the romantic hold JFK had on the country; Georgia's fantasy never rises above the level of a silly conceit. Aspects of the setting, both in Brazil and Connecticut, are powerfully realized, as is Mrs. Beard: even dead and without a ghostly form, she may be the most compelling character on the scene.
Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Georgia Hughes, a 13-year-old American, lives in Rio de Janeiro with her banker father and snobbish mother. On a Christmas vacation, the girl meets poetic Tim, a fellow loner, who kisses her at midnight on New Year's Eve, 1963, and then disappears. Soon thereafter, Georgia's father takes up with a Brazilian woman in Rio while her mother moves back to the States and ships her daughter off to a second-rate boarding school. Georgia begins to fantasize that she is President Kennedy's daughter and communicates with him via letters she writes in a journal and through imaginary conversations in which he offers both reassurance and bizarre bits of information e.g., that her school is a cover for a Cuban gun-running operation; she also "receives" surprisingly sound advice from Mrs. Beard, the long-dead founder of the school. Georgia, who also narrates, accepts these voices as authentic, and the novel ends without resolving the nature of the various communiqu s. In some ways, Gordon's Midnight Magic prose is strong--for all the hazy workings of the protagonist's mind, Georgia has charisma, and the settings are unusually solid. But given an unconvincing and cliched supporting cast, an implausible plot Georgia ends up hiding on school grounds for several days with Tim, who has run away from a neighboring school she had no idea he attended and the lack of resolution, the novel falls far short of its potential. Ages 10-14. Apr. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA - Jennifer Hubert
Thirteen-year-old Georgia is a dreamer. She needs something to cushion her from the reality of her parents' dissolving marriage and the fact that she has to leave her beloved Brazil for a boarding school in Connecticut. It is 1963, and Georgia is attending the American School in Rio de Janeiro, dreaming of Tim, the boy she met over the holidays who shared her first kiss. When her mother, La, finds out that Georgia is taking advantage of La's business trip to the States to skip school and that her husband has taken a Brazilian mistress, she wastes no time shipping Georgia off to the Beard School for girls. There, Georgia copes with her loneliness by pretending that the young President Kennedy is her new attentive father and that the kindly Mrs. Beard, the ghost of the school's original headmistress, has taken the place of her emotionally distant mother. All of these imaginary conversations leave little room for real relationships, so Georgia is labeled as snobby by the other Beard girls. It is only when Kennedy is assassinated and Tim makes a surprise appearance that all of Georgia's illusions are ripped away and she is forced to see everyone for who they really are-including herself. Gordon's first novel accurately depicts a process most teens go through: the attempt to connect. Georgia's efforts to find some tethers in her drifting existence are realistic, and young adults will sympathize with her conflicting needs to both belong and retreat from the world. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
Children's Literature
Yet another of Holden Caulfield's numerous progeny, Georgia Hughes is the overlooked adolescent daughter of a rich American couple living in Brazil. It is 1962, and when Georgia's father takes up with another woman, Georgia's mother takes Georgia back to the States and packs her off to a small, second-rank boarding school, the only school, in fact, that will accept the dreamy non-achiever. In an attempt to satisfy her longing for a real family, Georgia fantasizes that President Kennedy is her father. She writes him letters and solicits his advice, accepting the suggestion that her stodgy teachers are really a gun-smuggling gang running weapons to Cuba. Georgia's other outlet is her brief friendship with Tim, an outsider like herself, who is also from Brazil. Tim is a poet and deeply unhappy in the jock world of the school he ends up attending. His believable anger makes him a more interesting character than Georgia, but the roots of that anger, just as the cause of Georgia's alienation, are never truly addressed. The huge coincidence that these two wind up at neighboring schools is a great weight on the story, as well, and the standard cast of callous, narcissistic adults and sensitive, vulnerable teens has become pretty stale over the last forty years. Still, the writing is professional, and this may appeal to young readers who feel out of sync, which is a sizable audience. 2001 (orig. 1999), Puffin/Houghton Mifflin, $5.99. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Miriam Rinn
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-It's 1963, and 13-year-old Georgia Hughes, feeling neglected by her wealthy, divorcing parents, imagines that President Kennedy is her warm and caring father. Georgia has been living in Brazil with her mother and father, whom she calls La and Winter; they are as cold and superficial as those names imply. When La discovers that her husband is having an affair, she returns to Washington, DC, with Georgia and places her in a Connecticut boarding school. Arriving in October, Georgia finds it difficult to fit in until her active imagination conjures up the ghost of the school's former headmistress, who gives her advice. When Tim, a friend from Brazil, turns up in Georgia's school's boathouse as a runaway from his boarding school, Georgia realizes that she no longer wants to leave. She has found a home, a place where people care for her and she for them. The poignancy of the book is heightened for those readers who realize that JFK will be assassinated in November. When that event occurs, Georgia has matured enough to stop pretending. The `60s setting, enhanced by some slang, will appeal to readers. Georgia's voice shines clearly in the narrative and especially in the series of letters she writes to JFK. She is a likable and well-drawn character, with a wonderful voice. Readers will empathize with her and cheer her coming-of-age.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Kirkus Reviews
A believable look at life in boarding school in the 1960s, made surreal by the narrator's fantasy that she is John F. Kennedy's daughter, and her conversations with the school's long-dead founder. Right before they separate, Georgia's mother and father take her on vacation to a resort not far from their home in Rio de Janeiro. Georgia, shy and confused, meets Tim, a sensitive boy who shares her interest in stamps and whose parents are just as screwed-up as hers are. Their idyll is short-lived; soon Georgia's father is in Rio with his girlfriend, her mother settles into Washington, D.C., and Georgia is off to Connecticut, to the only boarding school that will take her. As she retreats more and more into a fantasy that her real father is JFK, Georgia has trouble finding friends, doesn't like her teachers, and ends up with a terrible report card. In her head she talks to Mrs. Beard, the down-to-earth founder of the school, deceased but apparently still able to help Georgia out of a jam. Tim makes a reappearance; he's run away from a nearby boy's school, but now he seems more peculiar than poetic. He wants Georgia to run away with him, but she, learning of the uproar at the school in the early hours of her disappearance and reeling from the news that JFK has been assassinated, decides that the students and teachers are her real family and refuge. Gordon's title and the premise offer more to adults than young readers, who won't understand the romantic hold JFK had on the country; Georgia's fantasy never rises above the level of a silly conceit. Aspects of the setting, both in Brazil and Connecticut, are powerfully realized, as is Mrs. Beard: even dead and without a ghostly form, she maybe the most compelling character on the scene. (Fiction. 10-13) .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395913642
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 202
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Gordon has written four books for children. She teaches drama at the Bement School and lives in Montague Center, Massachusetts, with her two sons.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2004

    an exellent read

    in the book georgia goes from being a lonley girl defined by others to becoming a strong and reflective person finding a definition of her own - not as j.f.k's daughter or the sand princess but as an artist, as a girl with a soul and place were it can grow.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2011

    An amazing story

    i first read this novel when i was young, maybe in third grade. i loved to read and i was looking up books about Caroline Kennedy for a school project. i thought this is what it was on but it wasnt.
    My sister didnt want me reading it because "it was for higher readers" seeing she was reading it for her 8th grade class, i decided to take it one night and finished it all in the same time.

    it was an amazing story, i continued to read the book for as many days as i could before my sister started to notice. It was just inspiring and taught lessons and morals and the struggle of a child in a broken family.

    its a good book to enjoy, but i wouldnt recommend it for children under 5th grade because its a difficult story, the only reason i think i got it was because i learned to read at age 2. but if you think you can read/like/understand it go ahead.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2000

    Not Dissapointing

    Although i am not a lover of children's literature this book took my heart and i went on this girl's journey. i think this book is worth reading.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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