This Life Is in Your Hands
One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone
By Melissa Coleman
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061958328, 336pp.)
Publication Date: April 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Set on a rugged coastal homestead during the 1970s, This Life Is in Your Hands introduces a superb young writer driven by the need to uncover the truth of a childhood tragedy and connect anew with the beauty and vitality of the back-to-the-land ideal that shaped her early years.
In the fall of 1968, Melissa Coleman's parents, Eliot and Suea handsome, idealistic young couple from well-to-do familiespack a few essentials into their VW truck and abandon the complications of modern reality to carve a farm from the woods. They move to a remote peninsula on the coast of Maine and become disciples of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the homesteading bible Living the Good Life. On sixty acres of sandy, intractable land, Eliot and Sue begin to forge a new existence, subsisting on the crops they grow and building a home with their own hands.
While they establish a happy family and achieve their visionary goals, the pursuit of a purer, simpler life comes at a price. Winters are long and lean, summers frenetic with the work of the harvest, and the distraction of the many young farm apprentices threatens the Colemans' marriage. Then, one summer day when Melissa is seven, her three-year-old sister, Heidi, wanders off and drowns in the pond where she liked to play. In the wake of the accident, ideals give way to human frailty, divorce, and a mother's breakdownand ultimately young Melissa is abandoned to the care of neighbors. What really happened, and who, if anyone, is to blame?
This Life Is in Your Hands is the search to understand a complicated past; a true story, both tragic and redemptive, it tells of the quest to make a good life, the role of fate, and the power of forgiveness.
As a freelance writer, Melissa Coleman has covered lifestyle, health, and travel. She lives in Freeport, Maine, with her husband and twin daughters.
After I-95 peters out, US 1 is the only way to get to the jagged Maine coastline. Quaint local stores and the occasional tourist trap line those sections of the road. For the last installment of our series on vacation reading around the country, guest host Linda Wertheimer talks with Susan Porter, owner of Maine Coast Books about what her customers are reading this summer. More at NPR.org
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- What does the title of the memoir refer to? Whose life is at stake?
“Intense readability.... haunting power.... as well as lush, vivid atmosphere that is alluring in its own right.... [A] story so nuanced that it would be a disservice to reveal what was in store. If you want to know what happened, read it for yourself.”
-Janet Maslin, New York Times
“A fascinating look at the roots of the organic movement as well as a cautionary tale about the limits of idealism and the importance of forgiveness.”
“Rendered with sublimity…. [Coleman] fluently describes the power of the natural world, familial love and heartbreak, grace after loss.”
-New York Times Book Review
“Coleman’s moving recounting never loses hope of redemption.”
-People, Lead Review "People Pick"
“The Colemans and the Nearings . . . worked hard to create an alternative economy that is still growing in rural America. This memoir is evidence of their great sacrifices.
-Los Angeles Times
“Combine the sincerity of Walden with the poignancy of The Glass Castle, add dashes of the lush prose found in The Botany of Desire, and you get This Life Is in Your Hands…. I was engaged and deeply moved by this evocative tale of Paradise found then lost.”
-Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed
“[This] is a rare breed of book-a memoir that justifies its own existence; that feels like it needs to exist…. Coleman shows that without the essential ingredient of heart, any family-no matter how perfect and revolutionary it seems-is in danger of experiencing real loss.”
“Lyrical and down-to-earth, wry and heartbreaking, This Life Is In Your Hands is a fascinating and powerful memoir. Melissa Coleman doesn’t just tell the story of her family’s brave experiment and private tragedy; she brings to life an important and underappreciated chapter of our recent history.”
-Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
“With beautiful lyrical prose, Coleman shows us what life in a 1970s back-to-nature farm was like, and the dear price her family paid pursuing their dream.”
-Ann Hood, author of The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle
“Her memoir is as wrenching as it is beautifully written.”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Melissa Coleman’s enthralling account of ‘70s back-to-the-land living is an important cultural and emotional document: this is a story about surviving and, eventually, thriving amidst the shadows of loss.”
-Heidi Julavits, author of The Uses of Enchantment
“A dream, a family, a heartbreaking tragedy—and a book I could not put down. Melissa Coleman’s memoir of a back-to-the-land childhood is fresh, organic, and gorgeously written.”
-Peter Behrens, author of The Law of Dreams
“An absorbing read that intelligently arrays the romanticism of living off the land against the emotional challenges of moving off the grid.”
“This uncompromising memoir is tender, nonjudgmental, and heartfelt.”
“A beautifully rendered memoir about growing up in a unique environment fueled by experimental back-to-the-land living. . . . Coleman illuminates the beauty of growing up in a family culture that valued nature and freedom of expression, but also frankly exposes farming’s negative impact on her family.