For the past few months I’ve been conducting an informal poll of my book-blogging friends; I hadn’t yet read a graphic novel, and wanted to get their recommendations of where to start. It had to be a successful trial, or I was likely to continue to shun the genre. Marian Henley’s graphic memoir, The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story, was the perfect place to start, and I won’t hesitate to suggest it to anyone interested in trying the graphic format.
The Shiniest Jewel is indeed a love story; to Henley’s adopted son, her husband, and her father. The book begins as Henley approaches age 50, and follows her life for the next year or so. In the opening pages, Henley realizes that although she is unsure about committing to marrying her long-term love interest (geographical distance and a 13-year age difference are her concerns), she is certain that she wishes to become a mother.
In her memoir, Henley shares the joys and disappointments that she encounters along the way to the international adoption of her son, William. She meets setbacks and stonewalls, yet she perseveres. In tandem to the story of William’s adoption is the tale of the declining health of her father, Bill. Henley recalls the sacrifices her father has made throughout his life, for his friends and for his family. Bill is a man of few words, but “still waters run deep”, as deep as his love for Henley and her growing family. Sitting by his sickbed, Henley recalls “We didn’t talk much, but then again … we never had. It had taken me years to understand that his silence was not condemnation.”
Henley shares her memoir in the graphic format with narration, dialogue bubbles and clever asides. The accompanying drawings are sweet and poignant, illustrating the emotional rollercoaster Henley rode as she journeyed to complete her family. I enjoyed my first foray into reading full-length graphic works! The Shiniest Jewel is a jewel itself, and would be an appropriate and appreciated gift for an adoptive family.
Marian Henley is the creator of the Maxine! syndicated weekly comic strips. She previously published the graphic novel Maxine! and a collection of comic strips called Laughing Gas: The Best of Maxine. More information about Henley and her work can be found at her website.
Springboard Press is part of the Hachette Book Group; their mission is “to publish quality prescriptive and narrative nonfiction books for … Baby Boomers who are in search of inspiration, entertainment, and reinvention in their lives. … [T]hese books … range from memoir and popular culture to beauty, well-being, inspiration, relationships, and career.” General non-fiction appeals to me, I have a strong interest in personal memoir, and who can argue with well-being, inspiration and healthy relationships?!? I’ll look forward to reading other quality books from Springboard (although I’ll stamp my feet and say I was born six months too late to be considered a baby boomer!)