For The Someday Book

Book Review: Jewel

Posted on: July 8, 2011

Jewel by Bret Lott, Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), 1991, 358 pp.

This is a novel about a woman of great strength, love and willpower. Exactly my kind of story.

Jewel is born in the backwoods of Mississippi in 1904, orphaned at age 11, sent to live with a grandmother who hates her and then a harsh reform school. She makes her way in the world, finding a husband who loves her and giving birth to five children. Her sixth child is born in 1942 with great difficulty, and does not develop like the other children. This daughter, Brenda Kay, has Down’s Syndrome.

The custom of the day was to place children with developmental disabilities into an institution, and the doctors declare that Brenda Kay’s life expectancy is only two years. However, Jewel and her husband Leston will not part with their daughter, and vow to do everything in their power to make Brenda Kay’s life as full and rich as possible. This commitment costs them and costs their family almost everything they have, but Jewel, Leston and the other five children make the sacrifices almost without complaint. Brenda Kay lives into adulthood, and learns to walk, talk and interact with the world.

This book is not Brenda Kay’s story—it is Jewel’s story. Jewel’s voice narrates the book in first person, and you see her determination and fortitude every step of the way. I never had a clear image in my mind of what Jewel looked like (I rarely form concrete images for characters in novels), but I could always picture a certain set of the jaw and narrowing of the eyes as she set her mind to facing whatever task or difficulty came her way. At several points in the story, Jewel talks about setting about fixing things, to take what life had given her and make her way with it. One day, after watching Brenda Kay simply walk away into the woods, she says,

I thanked God for this all, even though I knew it was me would be following her all the way through her time on this earth, unless i took to heart the task before me, the one set up by the same God who’d given her to me: find a way to fix this, not simply watch from behind as she walked straight across the face of her days.

I loved Jewel’s resolve in this book. I loved that her husband, Leston, was neither an evil abuser nor a simple romantic figure–he was a complicated man with deep feelings of his own, and the book showed their negotiations throughout their marriage. I loved that Brenda Kay was a subject and not just an object, and that Lott detailed both the joy and the burden of lifelong care for a special needs child. The story was always moving, the characters always growing and evolving, but never perfect. This novel was simply a great read, rewarding and enriching. Bret Lott created a beautiful world for this family, and I was transported into it as I followed along their life’s journey. Read and delight.

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1 Response to "Book Review: Jewel"

An enjoyable read Jewel by Bret Lott. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by “to read” list.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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