Review: This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

April 11, 2012 Harper Books, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Review 8

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0061958336
  • Source: Publisher

In the late 1960s, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue, gave up their life in regular society to move to a rural rugged coastland in Maine. They purchased 60 acres of land, planning to exist solely on the crops they grew. They were inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, authors  of Living the Good Life, a couple well known as proponents of living off the land. Coleman’s parents literally lived off of what they established themselves, including a wood cabin they built from hand, devoid of the conveniences of plumbing, electricity, etc. It was here they raised Melissa and her two sisters.

Melissa was born within months of this move to the rural life. She wasn’t raised as many children were, instead of close friends she relied on farm animals around her to keep her company. It wasn’t too long before she was graced with a younger sister to keep her company in the open expanse of nature around her. For the sake of living off of nature, her parents swore off common practices, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, and the like.

This life her parents established for them was not an easy one. Her father worked endlessly to produce crops that, in turn, her mother diligently prepared for storage in their food cellar. Her father became obsessed with providing for his family. Unfortunately, the perfect simple life they craved for wasn’t the life they obtained. Soon the media learned of this family’s farming movement, and the idyllic life they craved to create began to crumble. When a horrific tragedy befalls the family, this facade of a happy life the family created began to fall apart. Instances of mental instability in Melissa’s mother became more prevalent, “checking out” when things got too rough. The patriarch of the family, the proponent behind this movement, begins to falter in his passion and his dedication to his family. By the fall of 1978, this life they created together, out of their own sweat and tears, is nonexistent.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak is Melissa’s own account of life growing up in a homestead family. Oftentimes, I found myself forgetting that it was her own life she was reliving, for the emotion usually associated with this sort of retelling was absent. I saw this as a clear indication of the sort of family she grew up in, a family more focused on nurturing the land than the members of the family itself.

Knowing from the premise of the book of the sort of tragedy that would befall the family, I became frustrated when it wasn’t brought up until the last 1/3 of the book. That said, the story Coleman portrays is an incredibly inspirational, yet also devastating, book. I was rooting for the family, so set on providing a good life for their children. As I watched the structure, the backbone of the family start to crumble, I was devastated. I wanted the Coleman family to thrive, to prove all those who doubted them that they could seek everything they needed from the land around them.

In today’s society, when we rely so much on technology to exist, I believe it is important to look back at what life was like without these materialistic items.  Coleman’s memoir gives us a glimpse of this simpler life, a life not too far in the past. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the tour page for additional stops in this tour.

8 Responses to “Review: This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman”

  1. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads

    This sounds both sad and fascinating. There are many happy and successful stories of living off the grid, homesteading, and/or homeschooling. I’ll have to take a look.

  2. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)
    Twitter: kimthedork

    I thought this was a really great memoir — one of my top reads of 2011, in fact. I liked the way she was able to build tension in the story, even when you knew that the tragedy was coming. And the writing was just lovely.

  3. Patti Smith
    Twitter: PattiRSmith

    I just don’t know about this one…I really like the homesteading stories that are more positive…tough work but rewards in the end. I wonder if this story is more of a dysfunctional family who decide to be homesteaders story?

  4. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    I look at homesteading as sort of a fantasy, one in which I would last probably…2 weeks. I grew up on a farm, so I pretend I know what I am doing when I say I want to make my own sheep cheese and have chickens, but if I’m honest, I think I’m too lazy. I find these stories inspirational, and I’ve heard some really amazing and heartbreaking things about this one. Great review.

  5. Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours
    Twitter: age30books

    I read a similar memoir story about a family avoiding the world and living out on an island, and the dad in that family was the one with mental problems. I can’t imagine putting my own family through that kind of experience.

    Thanks for being on the tour Jenn.

  6. Lu

    I’m really interested in memoirs like this, so I’m definitely going to put it on my list.