Skip to main content

Meant to Be


Meant to Be

In an author’s note at the end of her new book, Emily Giffin admits that she’s long been fascinated by the Kennedy family --- that unique combination of glamour, high-minded ideals and tragedy that has marked so many of their lives and deaths. In MEANT TO BE, she reimagines one of those tragic Kennedy stories but leaves the door open for a happily ever after.

The Kingsley family isn't exactly based on the Kennedys. In fact, the Kennedys themselves are mentioned in passing, so it’s clear that the fictional Kingsleys might spend time in the same social circles, but they are not direct corollaries to the Kennedys. But there are certainly some similarities. The first Joseph Kingsley and his son were war heroes. Joseph Jr. goes on to become an astronaut, only to die an untimely death, leaving his son, Joseph (Joe) Kingsley III, to take up the mantel of the family’s responsibilities long before he is ready to do so. Joe relies perhaps a little too heavily on his family name to get him through his Ivy League education and law school, passing the bar only on his third try and dating a string of models and actresses, clearly relishing the role of rich playboy.

"[Giffin] does a masterful job of asking key 'what if?' questions and then going on to answer them in imaginative, thoughtful ways."

Meanwhile, seemingly a world away but just nearby in New Jersey, Cate Cooper has grown up without a father. Cate mostly loved her childhood with her single mother, even though her mom always seems to make bad choices when it comes to men. Things come to a head, though, when she remarries a man who is physically abusive to her and verbally abusive to both of them. When Cate is discovered by a scout and eventually hired as a model, she views her new career as the opportunity she’s been waiting for to finally escape her volatile home life. And when her path crosses Joe Kingsley’s, the attraction is immediate. But what will happen if they start a serious relationship? Does Joe really want to settle down? And can their love bridge the yawning chasm between their very different backgrounds?

The novel strikes a careful balance between simply retelling the true story of JFK Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and crafting an entirely new one. Readers who have an abiding interest in the Kennedys will be fascinated to see the ways in which Giffin utilizes real-life details and how she complicates the romance by introducing various factors, particularly issues of class, and considering how they might have affected the relationship of these fictional counterparts to JFK Jr. and Carolyn.

At times, it might feel like Giffin hasn’t pushed the stakes quite high enough as the couple’s conflicts can seem a little blown out of proportion. That said, she does a masterful job of asking key “what if?” questions and then going on to answer them in imaginative, thoughtful ways. Readers who still long for a return to Camelot might feel those emotions stirring again at the epilogue, where a happy ending has implications not only for romance, but also for American politics.

MEANT TO BE is a chic, history-inspired summer read that you will want to take with you to the beach.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 3, 2022

Meant to Be
by Emily Giffin

  • Publication Date: April 4, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0425286665
  • ISBN-13: 9780425286661