Millions fell in love with the Princess of Monaco, but as her independence shifted from the thumb of one man to another, hardly anyone saw the real woman beneath the icon and legend.

In The Girl in White Gloves (Berkley), Kerri Maher masterfully reveals the Grace Kelly few people knew: a restless striver intent upon wowing first her elusive father and later her perfectionist husband. We first meet an ambitious young Grace Kelly as she takes on Broadway roles and later movie parts that challenge the prevailing view of her as an icy blonde. Channeling “decorum and reason, the dual tyrants of the world that had made her”, she gains a tenuous confidence in her abilities, following a mentor’s advice to shape herself and eventually gaining enough gumption to sway the indomitable Alfred Hitchcock in how he directs her.

Throughout the early years of her career, she guards her independence, leaving behind lovers both famous and unknown whenever they subsume her out of their own insecurity. One friend warns her about marriage: “the capable man you thought you were marrying will turn into a little boy, expecting a mother as much as a wife.” In addition, Grace eschews the Hollywood studio system that threatens to lock her into a long-range contract, a risky move that means managing her own press in the days predating PR professionals. Just as she establishes herself as a powerhouse, she meets Prince Rainier of Monaco, and they fall in love mainly through a playful long-distance correspondence in which he praises her independence. As they plan their wedding, Rainier blindsides her, announcing to the press that his bride shall retire from acting.

Much of this story and its final act are well-known of course, but author Kerri Maher illuminates Grace’s subdued turmoil, focusing on her relationship with her father, a self-made Irish immigrant who never gained full acceptance in their hometown of Philadelphia and who baldly prefers Grace’s athletic siblings. Maher paints many of Grace’s actions as desperate attempts to “feel seen” by Mr. Kelly. She accepts Rainier’s proposal and becomes a princess—the most spectacular elevation of the Kelly name imaginable and yet one that nevertheless fails to capture her father’s esteem. These patterns repeat themselves with her husband for much of their marriage.

We witness many poignant glimpses of Grace’s private side as she matures and shepherds her three children through their glitzy international milieu. Grace suffers on behalf of the kids, feeling during one crisis “as if her body were manufacturing something that would cost her and protect them at the same time.” Luckily, many of her friendships throughout with celebrities and trusted friends bring Grace much-needed doses of equanimity, rescuing the book from becoming overly maudlin, and towards the end of the narrative, her flashes of independence once more emerge. Grace decides it doesn’t much matter if her husband is snoozing while he’s in the audience of a poetry reading she’s conducting, for “his slumber put her in a category that included the finest opera singers and dancers in Europe.” Soon after, she and Rainier celebrate their twenty-first wedding anniversary, rediscovering a sense of tenderness.

Fans of books like The Paris Wife will delight in Maher’s depictions of glamorous locales ranging from Manhattan and Hollywood to Europe, as well as her resurrection of legendary entertainers and creative types of yesteryear, from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to Oleg Cassini and Cary Grant. Even Princess Diana makes a cameo appearance, reminding us of how Grace was a trailblazer as a commoner marrying into royalty. The two women share a sweet exchange as Grace counsels Diana on perseverance, for she has learned how to manage in the eye of the storm. On the day of her death, Maher presents Grace as reinvigorated, newly attached to her husband and children and feeling peaceful. The ending comes across as bittersweet instead of bombastic, an apt description overall for a thoughtful and moving book that ably illuminates a struggling albeit determined princess.

For more on Kerri Maher, please visit her website.

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Kerri Maher is also the author of This Is Not A Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World under the name Kerri Majors. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and founded YARN, an award-winning literary journal of short-form YA writing. For many years a professor of writing, she now writes full time and lives with her daughter in Massachusetts where apple picking and long walks in the woods are especially fine.