Where the Watermelons Growby Cindy Baldwin Published 03 Jul 2018
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Twelve-year-old Della Kelly has lived her whole life in Maryville, North Carolina. She knows how to pick the softest butter beans and sweetest watermelons on her daddy’s farm. She knows ways to keep her spitfire baby sister out of trouble (most of the time). She knows everyone in Maryville, from her best friend Arden to kind newcomer Miss Lorena to the mysterious Bee Lady.
And Della knows what to do when the sickness that landed her mama in the hospital four years ago spirals out of control again, and Mama starts hearing people who aren’t there, scrubbing the kitchen floor until her hands are raw, and waking up at night to cut the black seeds from all the watermelons in the house. With Daddy struggling to save the farm from a record-breaking drought, Della decides it’s up to her to heal Mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville for generations.
She doesn’t want to hear the Bee Lady’s truth: that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain than with healing Della’s own heart. But as the sweltering summer stretches on, Della must learn—with the help of her family and friends, plus a fingerful of watermelon honey—that love means accepting her mama just as she is.
"Where the Watermelons Grow" Reviews
I had the pleasure of reading this book before it got a book deal. It is gorgeous. The words will floor you. They are lyrical and beautiful and packed full of emotion. The feelings are raw and real. An important book. Loved it.
Oh my goodness. When I moved away from the Carolina's, what I missed the most was the soft and gentle way of that part of the world. The talk and demeanor of the people, the heat and big old sun that sinks deep into everything and fills you up inside. And this book? That voice? It's all right here.
From the beautiful prose, the little sister (a spitfire like ALL OF MINE, but I digress), the family struggling with mental illness (which we do), the friendship between Della and her best friend, the Bee Lady's honey, and every character in this small southern town, this story will touch your heart. I am sorry it's winter in Maine and I'm not in the Carolina's in summer, eating watermelon with Della, and telling her everything's going to be okay.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a different sort of family, like I've always had, those who feel a bit lost and want to be found, or just those who want to dip their feet into the beautiful south. WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW felt like coming home.
I'm lucky enough to have read this one already and I can't say enough great things about this story. I read it in one sitting, because I couldn't put it down. It delivered on all the beautiful feels and Della's story stays with you long after you set the book down. It's a perfect bittersweet balance of optimism and acceptance. Add it to your TBR and start your countdowns now, you'll need this one on your shelf when it comes out!
I can count on one hand the number of books in our library that deal with parents who are battling mental illness and yet I know this is a problem that our students face. I am thrilled to be able to put this book on my shelves for the upcoming school year. WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is a book I won't forget anytime soon and I know it will stay with other readers, as well. Someone out there is going to complain that this book is too heavy and depressing for children. It is heavy. Having access to books about tough topics is important. Some of our students are dealing with tough situations like this one and they deserve to see their life reflected in books, too. I will defend books like this one ALL. DAY. LONG. And yes, it belongs in elementary school libraries, too. I think the sweet spot for this book is likely grades 3 - 6 (Della is entering 7th grade), but I know certain 7th and 8th graders who will love it, too.
Gulped this down in one sitting on an ugly cold January night - just like Della says of watermelon, it's got the very taste of the stickiest days of July. Full of gorgeous, languid prose I could read all day!
Thanks to the publisher for the free review copy. All opinions are my own.
I noticed this morning that WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is rated #1 in children’s farm life books on Amazon. That description is extremely limiting, but this book is about as southern as southern gets. It reminds me in many ways of THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd. You can almost hear the characters’ slow drawl and feel the hot, sticky air.
Della is indeed a 12-year-old country girl, spending her summer selling her family’s crops at their roadside farm stand. A summer drought threatens her family’s crops, and Della has never seen her father so stressed. That is, until her mother stops taking the medication that has helped to control her schizophrenia for several years—ever since the “bad time.”
Della feels responsible for her mother’s illness, in part because it first blossomed after her own birth. In addition, her mother’s worries often express as fears that something will happen to her daughters.
“And once you have a child, it’s like a part of your heart is out there walking around in the world…”
As her mother’s health spirals out of control, Della does everything in her preteen power to help. When all efforts fail, Della must rely on friends, family, and ultimately, the power within her to live with her struggles. That’s important—Della can’t solve her mother’s problems, she can only live alongside her and support her as she deals with them. Della also realizes that her mother’s illness in no way affects her ability to love her children.
“No sickness in the world could make my mama’s love for us less real.”
Della often expresses the fear that her mother is “crazy.” The characters surrounding her respond consistently and forcefully that calling her crazy is neither kind, fair, nor true. Her mother is sick, not crazy. It’s important for young readers to hear this message—that mental illness is just like any other illness.
Although I don’t have real-world experience with schizophrenia, this book read to me as a fair and genuine representation of the illness and its impact on families. Perhaps just as importantly its about family love and how family often blurs with community when we need it most.
I highly recommend WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW for middle grade and adult readers! I think it has wide appeal, deals with difficult issues in a fresh way, and is chock full of southern charm.