Parents' Guide to

Where the Watermelons Grow

By Jan Carr, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Book about mental illness in family is real yet reassuring.

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Kids say (4):

This realistic but hope-tinged story, told by a girl whose mom is seriously mentally ill, manages to truthfully present the challenges while conveying a warm tenderness. In Where the Watermelons Grow, the fraught family situation feels tense in many ways. Mama neglects her responsibilities, leaving baby Mylie screaming in her crib, her diaper soiled. And because she worries someone's trying to harm her daughters, she nearly harms them herself, withholding food from Mylie, and soaking the kitchen with bleach. Author Cindy Baldwin makes clear that Della feels responsible for Mama's illness, since its onset was pregnancy. And she ventures into even more uncomfortable, unsettling territory when Della fears she herself may be genetically programed for schizophrenia later in life. Mama may get better, but she'll never be reliably normal. That's the unrosy reality Della has to live with.

Still, Baldwin has crafted a sweet, tender book. She stocks the story with folks who rally around Della, never abandoning her in her distress. Baldwin also has a lovely writing style that exudes warmth. She describes Mama, "her face relaxing and softening, the way the sky unwrinkles after a thunderstorm." And she's alert to the sensual detail of weather and place. "The sky above me was moody, with thick stacked-up gray clouds that blew across he sun like sailboats." This loving treatment of a difficult childhood never feels heavy and is filled with light.

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