“The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson (2013)

presidentThis tense historical piece puts a magnifying glass on the days immediately surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy.

Recommended grade level: 6-12

Pages: 336 (for ISBN 9780545490078)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, history

Tone/Style: dramatic, detailed, investigative

Pace: fast

Topics: Assassination of John F. Kennedy, life of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Lee Harvey Oswald

Themes: historical impact of an event, psychology of a murderer

Summary: A breathtaking and dramatic account of the JFK assassination by The New York times bestselling author of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer!

In this young-adult book on the Kennedy assassination, James Swanson transports readers back to one of the most shocking, sad, and terrifying events in American history. As he did in his bestselling Scholastic YA book, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, Swanson deploys his signature “you are there” style — a riveting, ticking-clock pace, with an unprecedented eye for dramatic details and impeccable historical accuracy — to tell the story of the JFK assassination as it has never been told before.

The book is illustrated with archival photos, and will have diagrams, source notes, bibliography, places to visit, and index. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Readers looking for exciting and dramatic real-life events will enjoy this title. The narrative style makes this feel like fiction, so it’s a good choice for fiction fans who want or need to branch out into nonfiction. A little bit of gruesomeness and a lot of speculation on the workings of Oswald’s mind should draw in fans of procedurals and criminal psychology. Mystery fans will also find plenty to speculate on.

Who won’t like this book?: The many details of this book are impactful, but some readers may feel that there is too much description.

Other comments: This book packs in a lot of detail but still maintains a brisk pace. It dips briefly into the backgrounds of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, but most of it takes place immediately before, during, and after the assassination event–over a span of about a week, with a good deal of time and detail given to the date of the assassination. Jackie also gets a lot of attention.

When I was a kid, we never spent much time on post-WWII history. (We always seemed to run out of time in the school year.) It seems to me that’s still the case in many schools. Books like this can fill in the gaps.


What to read next: Swanson also wrote Bloody Times and Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, two books for young people involving the Lincoln assassination. If readers like the way The President Has Been Shot puts an intense and detailed focus on a single event, they might also enjoy  Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson, which has the same style. Steve Sheinkin is the standard-bearer for exciting nonfiction narratives for this age group, so direct nonfiction fans to his books if they haven’t tried them yet. YALSA offers a list of fiction readalikes for this title on its book blog The Hub.


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