The story chronicles three tumultuous years in the life of Chicago teenager Ellie Manikowski, who lives above her father’s funeral home near the Milwaukee, Division, and Ashland Avenue triangle in Chicago's Little Poland.
Ellie’s admiration for Jackie Kennedy begins in the Division Street subway station where She studies a billboard of Jackie on the wall. Jackie’s wearing coral lipstick, her eyebrows are impeccably tweezed, and she’s wearing an ivory outfit tailored from expensive wool, that even Ellie knows, doesn’t itch. Ellie looks down at her own worn winter jacket and scarf pilled with little yarn balls that looked like cooked tapioca. At that moment she knows that she wants more from life than her old Polish neighborhood can provide.
Ellie first romance, career plans, church and family life spin wildly out of control after her role model, her widowed Aunt Nina, runs into a bit of trouble with the local parish priest. Ellie can’t reveal what she knows about their affair, and in desperation she turns to Jackie Kennedy for guidance. Sometimes Jackie’s advice is profound, other times it’s hysterical. In Wanting to Be Jackie Kennedy, Kern juxtaposes the down-to-earth lives of the Manikowskis with the privileged lives of the Kennedys, and points out that in times of tragedy, close-knit families are all alike—and a certain indomitable grace can pull us through.
I chose the 60s as the setting of my novel because those years were so rich in idealism and hope for this country. To create the atmosphere I relied on my own background as a kid growing up above my dad's funeral home in a close-knit Polish family where everyone knew everyone else’s business. But that’s where the similarities end. I think readers of Polish ancestry will enjoy remembering the smells of Polish kitchens, Vegilia and the breaking of oplatki, and the fun of Polish weddings—all featured in my novel, along with many old memories of Chicago including shopping at Marshall Field’s and summers at North Avenue Beach.
Wanting to Be Jackie Kennedy (330 pp., $14.95), published by HillHouse Books, was a semi-finalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition.
I grew up in the Chicago neighborhood I wrote about. I received a B.S. degree in Communications from the University of Illinois. After a thirty-year corporate career where I managed employee communications at Apple in Silicon Valley, California, I received a Masters of Liberal Arts degree at Stanford University. I'm the mother of two grown children and I live in the gentle hills of Sonoma County, California, with my husband, Lee, also a Chicago boy.
Wanting to Be Jackie Kennedy is available on Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions), for e-readers including Kindle, i-Pad, Nook, Kobo and others.
For more information, or to read the first chapter of Wanting to Be Jackie Kennedy, check out my website, www.elizabethkern.com.