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Jewel by Brett Lott - Book Review


Bret Lott
Pocket Books

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

In the backwoods of Mississippi, Jewel and her husband Leston are blessed with five healthy children. All this changes with the birth of Brenda Kay in 1943. This is the story of a woman's devotion to a child who is both her burden and her blessing.

We Say

Bret Lott's novel Jewel is an Oprah's Book Club selection and for some, that means the book doesn't need an introduction. Now I have to admit, I have liked all of the books that I have read from Oprah's selections and I liked this one. Like, is the key word. I didn't love this book but I did enjoy it.

One review states that this is a book about a "mother-daughter relationship of matchless intensity and beauty". I have to disagree a little. While Bret Lott does create a relationship between Jewel and Brenda Kay that is intense and believable, this book is also about the relationship a mother has with her family when one child is physically and/or emotionally damaged.

No matter how a person looks at it, a child with special needs can be difficult for an entire family. In this particular novel, the arrival of Brenda Kay brings on change that the family is unprepared for. Jewel forces her husband to make changes that he does not want to make and in doing so, supersedes his authority as the 'man of the house'. The battle between Jewel and her husband becomes intensified after the arrival of Brenda Kay, since Jewel will stop at nothing to protect and provide for her daughter. This is a formidable task since most children born with disabilities like Brenda Kay's were institutionalised during this time period. Jewel is an excellent mother to Brenda Kay, but at what cost?

When we look at the other children in the family it is hard not to feel sorry for them. We have all experienced a time when one or both of our parents have not been available for some reason or another and it is only natural to resent it. The siblings that Bret Lott creates in Jewel seem so far removed from the situation that it is difficult to imagine that they are part of the family. We don't hear the siblings fight about the pressures or responsibilities that are brought on by the stress of caring for Brenda Kay. Unrealistic, in my opinion.

At certain moments, Jewel will recognise her own short comings as a parent to her other children when she looks at one of them, but she pushes that guilt to the back of her mind. None of the children ever challenge Jewel or berate her for her complete commitment to Brenda Kay. True, this is a novel about Jewel and her relationship with Brenda Kay but her other children have a direct if not immediate impact on that relationship. Perhaps that is the beauty of this book. Jewel is so blinded by her devotion to Brenda Kay that all else fades into the background.

Overall, Lott does a good job of showing us how Jewel is feeling about Brenda Kay. Brenda Kay is Jewel's burden and gift depending on how she feels about the given situation. While it is a powerful novel, especially in light of the fact that it takes place during a time when there was little support for families with special needs children, I still felt that there was something missing between the interaction of the various family members. Lott's character, Jewel, does leave us with a feeling of well-being because we all know that there are women out there who will rise to the challenges of life and we are all the better for their presence.

Review by: Yumi Nagasaki-Taylor

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