Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews – Book Review

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews
Published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

At the beginning of 1939 Jack Kennedy is a 22 year old Harvard student, FDR is in his second term as president, and Hitler is preparing to change the face of Europe. Although he is frequently ill, Jack plans to travel across Europe for his senior thesis during the spring semester – he isn’t about to let either Hitler or his own body stop him. For FDR, Jack represents the perfect opportunity: he is a smart and savvy young man with a reason to talk to nearly anyone in Europe and a diplomatic passport, thanks to the fact that his father, Joe Kennedy, is the US ambassador to England. Since the US has no spy service in 1939, FDR is handpicking a few select men to help keep him informed on what is happening in Europe. He recruits Jack, who quickly finds himself much more personally embroiled in what he is investigating than he could have ever expected.

John F. Kennedy is a figure who continues to loom large in the American psyche, but primarily as an adult who would be president, and less as a young man still in school. The existence of his university thesis, Why England Slept, which chronicled England’s failure to stop Hitler, is fairly well known, but I personally had no knowledge of his journey across Europe just as Hitler was beginning to launch what would become World War II.

Mathews’s version of Jack’s trip across the continent mostly follows his real itinerary, although some creative license is taken to fit her storyline. The story Mathews concocts to go along with Jack’s travels is both interesting and exciting. Jack is caught up in espionage and both he and his family are being threatened by an extremely dangerous man, a Nazi. The stakes couldn’t be higher – Jack’s life, family, and country are all in danger – and the tension keeps the pages turning.

Jack 1939 is an extremely engaging historical thriller, made all the more engaging for being set against a backdrop of real events

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