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The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story

by Marian HenleySpringboard Press; $21.99

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As an avid reader of adoption memoirs, I admit that I was a bit skeptical about Marian Henley's graphic memoir, The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story (Springboard Press; $21.99). After a few pages, however, I realized that Henley delivers more than a sentimental adoption memoir in comic-strip form. With spare text and clever pen-and-ink drawings, she artfully shows how everyday life grinds on, even as her own life is about to be turned upside down by a child's arrival--and by the myriad hurdles she faced as she adopted from Russia.

There's the heart-wrenching loss of her first referral, Sergey, accompanied by touching illustrations showing her difficult decision to dispose of his photograph. Just when things are looking up, her father begins a slow decline, depicted in pictures that show him looking increasingly frail. When she resolves to marry her long-time partner, she moves to a new city and endures cross-country treks to remain connected to her family. After accepting a second referral, Henley draws a picture of tied, clenched hands, symbolizing her desperate desire to adopt her son and arrive home before her father dies.

Through it all, Henley sees how family relationships are mysteriously intertwined, and that grief and joy, loss and gain, can exist simultaneously. The Shiniest Jewel is a jewel that will speak to any parent, no matter her path to parenthood.

Reviewed by Sue Gainor, national chair of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA). She lives with her family in the Washington, D.C., area.

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