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Up Close: Robert F. Kennedy by Marc Aronson

Up Close: Robert F. Kennedy

by Marc Aronson

Series: Up Close

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"Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John."
--Dion DiMucci

"Bobby Kennedy's short, eventful, and ultimately tragic life, you might say, was the transition from a time of secrets to one of exposure. We now know as much about his crippling flaws as his lofty aspirations. If he no longer looms as a pure Kennedy prince, that is all the better. For instead of an idol, he comes across as a dark, complex -- and deeply human --human being."

It is rare for me to share a book's ending but, in this instance, it is difficult to improve upon Marc Aronson's own conclusion of what he has so successfully accomplished in crafting this exceptional biography for middle school and high school students about Robert F. Kennedy, a larger than life figure from my childhood. I'd previously thought I knew a lot about Bobby Kennedy. Boy, was I wrong!

Actually, this is not a biography exclusively for adolescents, for the impeccable research that is at the foundation of this work will easily hold up when some college student decides to use it for a class, and the drama of Aronson's tale will quite handily engage adult readers as well. Marc Aronson is well known for doing informational adolescent literature the right way; in fact, he was awarded the very first Sibert Informational Book Award, an American Library Association award which honors an author "whose work of nonfiction has made a significant contribution to the field of children's literature."

What Marc Aronson was required to do, in writing his first book for Penguin's brand new CLOSEUP biography series for adolescents, debuting this spring, was to distill all of his extensive research down to 200 pages of adolescent reading. (This will be one of the trademarks of this series.) And while this has got to be a significant challenge for someone like Marc who is known for thoroughly exploring both their subject and the world in which that subject lives, what the reader ends up with here is a 200-page biography that is quite a manageable read for most teens and is an utterly engaging and often horrifying story containing not a single clunker or superfluous sentence.

In revealing the person that was Bobby Kennedy, the author lays out how Bobby's disposition, his position in the birth order of the famous Kennedy clan, and his father's disdain for him in contrast to the paternal nurturing of Joe Jr. and Jack, all had an immense -- some would say, fatal -- influence upon the man that Robert Kennedy grew up to be:

"Reckless courage was a characteristic Robert Francis Kennedy showed throughout his life. The bigger the challenge, the more eager he was to throw himself at it. As a child, Bobby flung himself into cold waters. As a lawyer in Washington, and later as Attorney General, he took on the nation's most dangerous mobsters. He went up, one-on-one, against Jimmy Hoffa, a corrupt union official who was as ruthless as he was powerful. At the height of white racial violence, Kennedy made himself the number-one target of armed and hate-crazed segregationists. Then at the worst moment of African-American fury and dispair he chose to speak in an all-black neighborhood. In a time when assassinations of outspoken leaders were all too common, he plunged into endless crowds."

An interesting strategy that Aronson employs in his writing here is his allusion to pieces of well known children's literature in explaining Bobby Kennedy's story, such as when he refers to Portsmouth Priory "as a kind of Hogwarts-under-construction," or when he compares the severing of Bobby from his brother through Jack's 1963 assassination to the agony suffered in THE GOLDEN COMPASS when people are severed from their daemons.

Looking like it will be the antithesis and an antidote to the vapid and/or exceedingly dense institutional biography series that you so often find on school library shelves, UPCLOSE: ROBERT KENNEDY is a superb piece of writing that transforms an icon into a real human being. ( )
  richiespicks | Jun 16, 2009 |
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