For the many who have read about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, few have missed her elegance and dignity, her remarkable style as a wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law and First Lady. Myriad articles and nonfiction books have documented Jackie, but what stands out in Stephanie Marie Thornton’s newest historical fiction is the setup.

In And They Called it Camelot (Berkley), Thornton brings Jackie’s compelling voice to life, confiding in the reader. We become privy to her feelings by gaining access to her innermost thoughts. Jackie invites us in, always regal, a fashion icon, someone with great presence and pride. Thus, with the author as our guide, the reader is inside Jackie’s head — we know the interior life of this famed and intriguing woman. We are right there with her during a major part of her life, beginning in 1952. This was the year when Jacqueline Bouvier broke her engagement to John Husted Jr. and was introduced to Jack Kennedy.

While we have front row seats to the machinations of the Kennedy clan and their aspirations, Thornton’s novel is not only a remembrance of how Jackie came to be the wife of JFK and First Lady. The story is multilayered: there are Jackie’s childhood issues, her mother’s view of the world and the lessons she imparted onto her daughters, along with her father’s drinking and absences. Thornton explores Jackie’s complex relationship with her younger sister, Lee. These sisters are rivals, protectors, beauties of a social class and on a seesaw, where Lee was ‘up’ first, having nabbed a prince.

Thornton writes about Lee Radzwill’s wedding to Prince Stanislaw Radziwill at a time when Jackie was still single:

Lee had a prince. 

I had no one.

Lee and I had always competed for everything — clothes, grades, our parents’ affection — and while I was accustomed to winning, she’d trounced me soundly this time, had even tossed me bridal the bouquet to punctuate the fact that she’d won this round. 

That is, until Jackie nabbed a future president of the United States. For Jackie, it was true love and Jack’s charisma that won her over. This was despite her mother’s warning that his father was a ‘notorious philanderer’ and that Jack was known to have had ‘assignations with married women’ while he was in Congress. Jackie adored her husband and appreciated how he was as a father to their children. In ways that haven’t been shown to us before, we see how this attraction lasted through the ups and downs of his transgressions and womanizing, the heartache of losing two babies in childbirth and her unrequited fantasy that she would have a happy, private life with her husband and children.

The challenges of being a Kennedy were apparent to Jackie from the start, and it was Bobby, among them, who became her ally. Thornton takes us through the speculation about their relationship and how their closeness factored into the darkest days after President Kennedy’s assassination. We remain on the journey with Jackie during this unspeakable period, the loss of “Camelot.” In the aftermath, she meets Ari Onassis, competes with her sister Lee for his affection, wins and forges a new identity.

We are with Jackie as she rebuilds her life — with the eyes of the world watching — and shifts her reality into another kind of existence, one that includes her love of books and literature, the arts and a publishing career. Thornton is impressive in showing us Jackie’s strength after tragedy and heartbreak — her reinvention, her endurance.

For more on Stephanie Marie Thornton, please visit her website.

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Stephanie Marie Thornton is a writer and high school history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska.