Historical facts and family stories about the hidden life of Rosemary Kennedy (1918-2005).
Using research, family stories, and her own interactions with her subject, Koehler-Pentacoff (The ABCs of Writing for Children, 2003, etc.) examines the life of the third child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Unlike her two older brothers, Rosie was a bit slow to develop. She was diagnosed as mentally disabled at the age of 7, but her parents rejected the idea of placing her in an institution and enlisted the entire family in helping raise her. With extra kindness, love, and help, they believed she could function in the world. But as Rosie grew older and more beautiful, she also became more rambunctious, sneaking out at night to meet men and have sex and throwing terrible tantrums when she was forced to stop. “Because of their high profile in politics and society,” the author writes, “the Kennedys couldn’t risk the shame of sexual disease or an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.” In 1941, “unbeknownst to his wife and family,” Joseph made the decision to have his daughter undergo a prefrontal lobotomy, which was supposed to “relieve her of the rages she suffered but also render her happy and content.” Unfortunately, the surgery left Rosie far worse than she had been. Joseph told the family she was being placed in a home run by nuns, and she was sent to live in Wisconsin, where her personal caretaker was the author’s aunt, Sister Paulus, who became a lifelong friend. With average prose, Koehler-Pentacoff flip-flops from one family to another, making the narrative a bit difficult to follow, but she does reveal an untold chapter in the Kennedy saga. She also delves into the different families’ histories of mental illness and shows how knowledge of Rosie’s disability led to the founding of the Special Olympics by Eunice Kennedy.
A middling memoir that provides a few interesting glimpses into one member of the Kennedy clan who was almost lost to her family.