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Jewel [Hardcover]

Bret Lott
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (291 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 1999 Oprah's Book Club

In this captivating, critically acclaimed novel, "a seamless union between teller and tale" (The Boston Globe), Bret Lott creates a matchless portrayal of a mother's devotion to the child who is both her burden and God's singular way of smiling on her.

It is 1943 in the backwoods of Mississippi. In the land of honeysuckle and wild grapevine, Jewel Hilburn and her husband Leston -- whose love for his wife is the surest comfort she's ever known -- are truly blessed. They have five fine children who embrace the world as though it were a sumptuous table set for a feast; and when Brenda Kay is born, Jewel gives thanks for yet another healthy baby, last-born and most welcome.

Jewel is the story of how quickly a life can change; how, like lightning, an unforeseen event can illuminate our lives and set us on a course without reason or compass.

All too soon, Jewel knows that something is wrong with Brenda Kay; her every moment, every breath is taken up with caring for her daughter, with setting things straight. Leston's optimism is failing as fast as the Southern postwar economy. And the physicians Jewel calls "crack doctors" insist that no one can fix a brain born without the gift of common sense.

Against a stunning tableau reminiscent of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the uniquely talented Bret Lott traces the intricate changes among the members of the Hilburn family as Jewel deepens her quarrel with God, taking hold of the hardships that come her way. Jewel sees one hope for them; they must travel to a new life in the Promised Land of California....

We will wait a very long time before another writer matches the intensity and the beauty of this mother-daughter relationship. Jewel stands as an unforgettable masterwork, in which Bret Lott has created one of the finest and most indomitable heroines of contemporary American fiction.

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From Amazon

The year is 1943 and life is good for Jewel Hilburn, her husband, Leston, and their five children. Although there's a war on, the Mississippi economy is booming, providing plenty of business for the hardworking family. And even the news that eldest son James has enlisted is mitigated by the fact that Jewel, now pushing 40, is pregnant with one last child. Her joy is slightly clouded, however, when her childhood friend Cathedral arrives at the door with a troubling prophecy: "I say unto you that the baby you be carrying be yo' hardship, be yo' test in this world. This be my prophesying unto you, Miss Jewel."

When the child is finally born, it seems that Cathedral's prediction was empty: the baby appears normal in every way. As the months go by, however, Jewel becomes increasingly afraid that something is wrong with little Brenda Kay--she doesn't cry, she doesn't roll over, she's hardly ever awake. Eventually husband and wife take the baby to the doctor and are informed that she is a "Mongolian Idiot," not expected to live past the age of 2. Jewel angrily rebuffs the doctor's suggestion that they institutionalize Brenda Kay. Instead the Hilburns shoulder the burdens--and discover the unexpected joys--of living with a Down's syndrome child.

Bret Lott has written a novel that spans decades, follows the lives of several characters, and cuts back and forth between Mississippi and California. Given these challenges, a lesser writer might lose focus. Lott, however, has wisely chosen to keep his eye trained on Jewel--a narrator who is smart, perceptive, and above all, honest. He has also bucked the trend toward political correctness by allowing his characters to think, feel, and talk the way white Mississippians of that era would have. ("Mongolian Idiot," "nigger," "cracker," and "buck" are just a few of the epithets sprinkled throughout the text.) The language may be discomforting to some readers. Few will deny, however, that Bret Lott has crafted a clan that is all heart in this bittersweet paean to the enduring strength of familial love. --Margaret Prior

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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I WAS BORN IN 1904, SO THAT WHEN I WAS PREGNANT IN 1943 I WAS near enough to be past the rightful age to bear children. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Moving but tough April 16 2004
By A Customer
I stuck with this book until the end,and I'm glad I did. Jewel offers readers the chance to look into the lives of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation-- caring for a Down's Syndrome child. The plot and the story were intriguing.
However, as a main character, I found Jewel extremely annoying. It seemed like she had children to satisfy her own ego, not to give out unconditional love. I thought she was very selfish. It was terrible the way she abandoned her other five kids. Bret Lott makes it seem like she had no other choice, that taking care of Brenda Kay was so hard that giving up the five others was inevitable. I couldn't get the warm fuzzies about Brenda Kay and jewel's mother/child relationship because I don't think Jewel WAS a good mother. Controlling and demanding, yes. Caring, no.
Also, this book was so heavy, weighed down with long descriptive phrases, renderings that made no sense, Jewel repeating herself again and again. There was not enough dialogue, and the action (or lack thereof) was insipid and SLOW. The first thing we learned in fiction writing in college is "SHOW, DON'T TELL." I ate up the few action scenes, as well as the family's backgrounds, like a greedy crack addict, dying for something out of Jewel's head.
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3.0 out of 5 stars THREE AND A HALF STARS Aug. 13 2003
As an avid reader I really enjoyed this book and was made aware of just how few books there are about the mentally and physically handicapped. Lott's story really opened my eyes and made me sympathetic to those who must deal with similar hardships.
Lott's voice as a countrified woman is fabulously realistic and I have't seen it done so well since Wally Lamb wrote "She's Come Undone." This story is so epic and so touching that it seems more like a memoir than fiction.
In truth, this is one of those books, not unlike "Gap Creek," where the reader is exposed to a whole new world and is able to become almost intimate with all the characters. This novel is filled with hardship, blissful ignorance, and a whole lot of what most of us know as the human condition.
The reason I gave this a lower rating is because I found at least thirty misspellings and typo's. Maybe it is the perfectionist in me, but so many mistakes really take away from the flow of the writing.
If this is a flaw that you can deal with, I highly recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing Sept. 16 2002
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
How would we rewrite this story? If Brenda Kay had not remained at home to be raised by her family, they probably would never have moved to California. I can understand the cultural shock Jewel went through coming from the life she was accustomed to in Mississippi to a different standard entirely in California, and this being in 1952. Then when she moves back home after 10 years finds things not changed at all. I myself moved from the midwest to Georgia in 1954 and was shocked to find drinking fountains labeled for "white" and "colored" and that the Negro people sat in the backs of the buses. I do feel the rest of her family was terribly cheated in that they had to accept a tougher lifestyle because of Jewel's total absorbtion in her baby with disabilities. Jewel was just not there for them at all and expected their sacrifices uncomplainingly. The fact they were able to succeed in California as well as they did is the highlight of the whole story. No one can second guess anyone else not having been there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars touches your heart July 4 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
While I have never written a review before now it was impossible for me to let "Jewell" go by without acknowledging it. I am a voracious reader, which actually probably understates things. I finish an average of two books a week - all fiction. This book must be one of the greatest things I have ever read. My preference in reading runs primarily to those books with a focus on character development, getting to feel their lives. Not only Jewell, but her entire family have to be the richest characters I have ever "met". From the first line to the last I was so attached to them all that I'm reeling from the loss of touch with their lives. In this day of families stretched from one end of the country to another, the connection of this family was a joy to share. My husband was diagnosed with MS two years ago and though he is holding up quite well it was still amazingly comforting to share in the lives of this family whose strength of commitment to each other and Brenda Kay never waivers.The incredible love that they share throughout their journey gave me such hope and power with that hope. I kept visualizing the beauty a motion picture would be, however so much would be lost of the texture the narrative gives. I miss them already and have starting passing on this wonderful book to everyone I know. It would be such a loss to not know this incredible woman and her family. Amy Knight Controller/ John Deere Equipment Dealer / Bakersfield, CA.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Jewel is not much of a gem... July 1 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What a struggle this book was! Aside from the fact that Bret Lott is obviously a very talented writer, I had such a hard time moving through this story. I'm not sure what it was about Jewel that failed to excite me. Excellent writing skills and a decent storyline are both present; however, I could not enjoy myself. Something was definitely missing for me.
Jewel Hilburn is a good wife, bringing forth five strong, healthy children and making a comfortable home for her family. Although late in life, Jewel finds herself pregnant again -- a sixth child, the baby of the family, the apple of her eye. But five months after little Brenda Kay is born, Jewel notices something dreadfully different from her other children. God has blessed the Hilburn family with a special child, a Down's Syndrome baby, and one who will prove she is both the burden and joy of all their lives. The story spans an entire lifetime, beginning with flashbacks of Jewel's childhood and ending with Jewel in her 80s. For readers who enjoy epics and characters that grow up before you, Jewel, at least in that respect, will provide.
I am clearly stumped as to the drawback of this book (for me). Pages did not turn quickly, I was never excited to pick it up and return to the world of Jewel and her family. I will say the last few chapters of this book did evoke some emotion, but other than that, Jewel fell flat. There is an audience for this book; however, be aware that the story does not move quickly, paragraphs are overly descriptive, and there is not enough dialogue to push things along. If you are in a reading slump, bypass Jewel for something more exciting.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A mother's love
This was a great book. I loved the way the author showed the connections each family member had with Brenda Kay. Read more
Published on May 19 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably good
....for several reasons. First, though the main character is a woman, the author is a man - yet you completely believe that a woman is telling this story. Read more
Published on March 26 2003 by William Sugarman
4.0 out of 5 stars If only we all had Jewel's strength
What a story! Where does someone get the kind of strength & courage Jewel has? This story gave us a wonderful insight to a family of 6 children, one of them born [mentally... Read more
Published on Dec 5 2002 by Theresa W
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative
This book gave great insight to what it feels like to have a child with a disability. Not only did I gain an understanding of how a parent feels, I understood the way it effects... Read more
Published on July 2 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars jewel
I have a son who was born with disabilities. I noticed that many of the reader that gave this book 5 stars had known someone who raised a child with disabilities or had raised a... Read more
Published on June 12 2002 by d hastings
4.0 out of 5 stars Life As It Really Is
This story was so real to life with all the struggles and triumps of a family. The story begins with Jewel (mother and main character) and her husband (Leston) living in a small... Read more
Published on Feb. 20 2002 by "wildwoodldy"
4.0 out of 5 stars My Thoughts on "Jewel"
I have enjoyed reading Bret Lott's novel, "Jewel". The book is about the hardships and happiness Jewel goes through in life. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2002 by Maeydah Hayat
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Story
This was such a good story. I finished reading it in one day. It was a true testament to the power of a mothers love and I would have to say to the love of family. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2001 by Jeanne Anderson
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