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The Precious Jules    by Shawn Nocher Amazon.com order for
Precious Jules
by Shawn Nocher
Order:  USA  Can
Blackstone, 2022 (2022)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

We first meet the Jules family in 1974. The mother, Hillary, is getting her four children settled in the play area after breakfast so she can take a shower and get dressed. She is heavily pregnant, and her children are a boy of seven, five-year-old twin girls, and a three-year-old boy. She carries one of the twins, Ella, who isn't walking or talking yet because she was deprived of oxygen during her birth. The doctor who delivered her sister didnít realize that there was another twin and the umbilical cord had gotten tangled around her neck.

Ella clings tightly to her mother, and Hillary must pull Ella's arm from around her neck to place her in a corner on the floor of the playroom. She tells her to be good and gives her toys to play with, none of which can be small enough for her to get into her mouth, which is important because she puts everything into her mouth. She and her sister Belle look like the identical twins that they are, but Belle and the boys are of normal intelligence. After Hillary goes upstairs to shower and dress, the three-year-old boy gets too close to Ella, and she bites him in several places. He is taken to the hospital for stitches, and this incident turns him against Ella and affects him in other ways as he grows up.

The story then skips to April 17, 2009, when all the children, including the boy that Hillary gave birth to shortly after this incident and a girl who was born in 1978, have grown up and left home, except for Ella. We learn that Ella was placed into a residential facility when she was eight, but there is a mystery about why this occurred. Now, however, her parents want to bring her home to live. Hillary has visited her weekly during the intervening years and thinks that she can take care of her now that there are none of her other children still at home.

Ella has progressed and can walk, talk, and take care of her bodily needs and has had a special housing arrangement at the facility. She lives with a caretaker, Lynetta, in a cottage near the main building, where the two of them go every day. Lynetta works in the main building and Ella helps her in simple ways. The whole facility is now being closed and the residents are being moved into foster homes or returned to their parents. Lynetta has been granted legal guardianship of Ella, but Hillary has hired a lawyer and is trying to get custody.

None of the brothers or sisters thinks that bringing Ella home is a good idea. Granted, only one of them, the oldest brother, has visited her after she left home, but the others think that their parents are too old to take on this responsibility and don't know what they're getting into. The chapters alternate among the various family members and Lynetta, and most take place during 2009 before all the children return home for a planned visit with Ella. She is to spend part of a day and an overnight at home so they can all get reacquainted. By the time of the visit, we have met and learned background information about most of the family members. Meanwhile, the mystery of why Ella was placed in the facility hangs over all of them.

I loved this book! The alternating viewpoints reveal, little by little, how having this special-needs sister has affected each of them as they grew up and made their ways in life. I particularly liked chapters where we get to know Ella, who remains childlike even though she's thirty-nine. There is a lot of love in this family, despite strong disagreements, and Lynetta's love of Ella stands out. She, of all of the characters, seems more concerned about Ella and what will be best for her, while the others concentrate on their parents or themselves.

I read the book slowly, savoring the progress of events leading to the satisfying conclusion. There are many surprises for readers in addition to our learning about the primary mystery of Ella's placement, with one amazing one right at the end of the book. The Precious Jules is beautifully written, and I look forward to reading many more books by this talented author.

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