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If a Poem Could Live and Breathe: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt’s First Live by Mary Calvi: A Book Review

If a Poem Could Live or Breathe: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt’s First Love

Author: Mary Calvi

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: 2023

Pages: 320

Synopsis: A fact-based romantic speculative novel about Teddy Roosevelt’s first love, by Mary Calvi, author of Dear George, Dear Mary.


     Studded with the real love letters between a young Theodore Roosevelt and Boston beauty Alice Lee―many of them never before published―If a Poem Could Live and Breathe makes vivid what many historians believe to be the pivotal years that made the future president into the man of action that defined his political life, and cemented his legacy.


      Cambridge, 1878. The era of the Gilded Age. Alice Lee sets out to break from the norms of her mother’s generation. Women are fighting for educational opportunities and exploring a new sense of intellectual and personal freedom. Native New Yorker, Harvard student Teddy Roosevelt, is on his own journey of discovery, and when they meet, unrelenting currents of love change the trajectory of his life forever. 


     If a Poem Could Live and Breathe is an indelible portrait of the authenticity of first love, the heartache of loss, and how overcoming the worst of life’s obstacles can push one to greatness never imagined.


     My Review: If a Poem Could Live or Breathe tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee. Alice dreams of going to college to further her education. One day, she meets a junior at Harvard named Theodore Roosevelt. He falls immediately in love with her and begins to pursue her. This story chronicles the courtship, marriage, and tragedy of Theodore Roosevelt and Alice Lee.


     I knew a little bit about Edith Roosevelt, Theodore’s second wife. However, I did not know anything about his first wife. Yet, this novel was very illuminating. I found Alice to be very fascinating. She was strong-willed and spunky. I like how she was a feminist and was for women having an advanced education. Thus, I can see why she managed to capture the heart of the future President.


     Theodore was a very compelling and eccentric figure. It was interesting to see the younger and more romantic side of him. He was very loyal and passionate to Alice. He was also a very deep thinker and matched well with Alice. I like how Alice influenced and supported him. Thus, I really liked them as a couple, and I cried at their tragic end.


     Overall, If a Poem Could Live and Breathe is a coming of age novel. This was a heart-breaking love story. Both Theodore and Alice had a deep love for each other. It makes readers see another side of this legendary President. He is very sympathetic and human. I also like all of the other characters. They seem very complex. There were a few things I did not like about the novel. I thought that the story moved at a slow pace and seemed drawn out. I also thought the writing was somewhat dry and stilted. It was more like a nonfiction work than a novel. Nevertheless, it was meticulously researched. It was still an enjoyable and moving novel about first love. I recommend this for fans of American Princess, The President’s Lady, and The Kennedy Debutante!


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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