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Jewel Hilburn is a plainspoken woman who tells her story and opens her soul and comes alive as few literary characters do. Her lessons came early in rural Mississippi: an orphan sent to a correctional school, she learned to take responsibility for her life. Her marriage to Leston was solid and loving and produced five fine children and a comfortable living during the relative prosperity of World War II. Then Brenda Kay was born with Down's syndrome, and Jewel's life split in two. There are echoes of Sue Miller's Family Pictures in the portrayal of the effects of an exceptional child on a family, but there is added depth and dimension here, as Jewel spends decades making what she can of her youngest child's life, while regretting what she is unable to give to the rest of her family. When jobs are scarce and doctor bills high in the postwar years, Jewel fixes on California to provide a better life for them all, and she works for what she wants despite the cost to the good man she loves. Jewel's story of a life and its legacy moves at its own pace with strength and dignity, captivating with its moments of aching tenderness and undertow of quiet power. ~--Michele Leber
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Jewel Hilburn is 39 years old and the mother of five when Brenda Kay is born. A Down's Syndrome child, Brenda Kay becomes the focus of her mother's world and forever alters the life of the Hilburns. Jewel tells her own story, but her life becomes so intertwined with that of her daughter that such milestones as Brenda Kay's first step at age two and her learning to write the letter ``B'' at age 18 become joint achievements. Based on the lives of the author's grandmother and aunt, Jewel captures the intricate details of raising a retarded child--the total dedication demanded of a mother, the child's impact on the rest of the family, the joy and heartbreak of having a child who will remain eternally six years old. Lott has produced a powerful novel that warrants its selection as a Literary Guild Alternate.-- Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ. at Carbondale Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Jewel Hilburn, the strong-willed narrator of this acutely affecting work, lavishes the parental love she never received upon her own exceptional child. Her adult life in rural Mississippi with two daughters, three sons and a devoted husband, Leston, has been one of domestic stability until the arrival in 1943 of her sixth child, Brenda Kay, afflicted with Down's syndrome. Brenda Kay becomes Jewel's, and necessarily her family's, sole focus: Leston's dream of owning a lumber company dies as medical costs mount, a lifelong friend is spitefully and unjustly blamed for an accident involving Brenda Kay, Jewel's decision to move the family to California to ensure the child's education sparks an excruciating battle of wills with Leston. Lott ( A Dream of Old Leaves ), who based his main characters on his own grandmother and aunt, expertly realizes a stubborn, faithful mother and her phenomenally unselfish, supportive family. Readers will suffer with Jewel, share her enthusiasm at Brenda Kay's progress, turn against her as she deliberately tries to break Leston's spirit. This haunting novel, imbued with an almost unbearable authenticity, runs the gamut of emotions associated with marriage and parenthood and acknowledges love's limitless potential. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved