The Shiniest Jewel is Marian Henley's adopted son. At the age of 49, after much agonizing, she decides it is time for her to have a child, and so she goes to an adoption agency. After some false starts, she ends up going to Vladivostok, far in eastern Russia, near the China border, and visits a little boy called Igor in an adoption home. Eventually, she is able to bring him back with her to the USA. This graphic memoir tells this story, intertwining it with two others. Henley and her long-term boyfriend Rick finally move in together, which means her moving from Texas to Tennessee. The other story is about her father's declining health, as he goes into hospital for a procedure, ends up staying longer than expected, comes home, goes back, and finally returns home again. It's a classic theme of welcoming new life coming into one's family while simultaneously mourning the loss of another loved one.
It's Henley's artwork that makes her memoir memorable. It is all done in line drawing, unfussily, in a warm accessible style. Henley is a liberal cartoonist who does yoga and who took a long time to "settle down," so she doesn't lead a conventional life. She has a different perspective on the world, which is refreshing. She captures both her hopes and fears as she goes through the adoption process, and also her worry about her father as his health declines. As she approaches the age of 50, she does a lot of thinking about what she wants from life and her relationships so far, and she makes some big changes. We see her trips to Russia and some of the experiences she had there, and she vivid conveys her emotions as she goes through it all. The Shiniest Jewel is touching and heartwarming without being saccharine.
Link: Author Web Site
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.