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Review: This Life Is in Your Hands

June 28, 2011

Eliot and Sue Coleman met on a college campus in the 1960’s, fell in love, got married and decided to try their hand at homesteading.  They bought sixty acres of land near Scott and Helen Nearing, a couple who were at the forefront of the homesteading movement.  They found it to be backbreaking work, but they were determined to make it work and persevered.  Children came quickly – first Melissa, then Heidi, and finally Clara.  With the parents working so hard to sustain their life on the farm, the children weren’t very well supervised – almost to the point of neglect.  One day, Sue was trying to get ready for company so she shooed Melissa and Heidi out of the house and tragedy struck.  Their family was never the same.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family Undone is Melissa Coleman‘s memoir of her family’s experiment with homesteading and I found it tragic and fascinating.  I was amazed at how much Coleman could remember from a very young age, but I think that happens sometimes when tragedy strikes.  My heart ached for poor Melissa – she longed for attention from her parents and only seemed to get it from the “interns” who spent summers with the family learning about organic farming (in other words, free labor for the family).  Melissa struggled to fit in at school because her lifestyle was so different – for example, she didn’t always remember to wear underwear, had never seen toilet paper before and ate different foods than everyone else.

The family keep moving forward, though, because they were a unit and had ideals to live for.  Once tragedy struck, however, each family member was haunted in some way and as they began to withdraw, the unit began to dissolve.

It seems strange to say I enjoyed a tragic story like this, but I did.  I often idealize things like sustainable living in my head and it’s nice to have a reminder of just how difficult it is.  Coleman’s writing is lyrical and beautiful.  She seemed to try to be fair in her presentation of homesteading – sharing the good along with the bad.

I listened to the audio version of This Life Is in Your Hands and I feel like I would have enjoyed the book more in print.  It’s read by the author, and while I know authors are often chosen to read memoirs, since it’s their story, I don’t think she was the best choice.  Her tone was monotonous and she often droned on.  The audio was unabridged and lasted approximately nine and a half hours.

Review copy provided by Harper Collins. I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
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37 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2011 5:37 am

    I like the premise though it does sound sad. I will take your advise and read the book in print.
    I haven’t read many memoirs, but I think I will enjoy this.

  2. June 28, 2011 6:06 am

    I’ve always been seduced by the idea of homesteading…BUT. Not when it comes at the neglect of the kids. I know that one can enjoy stories like this (The Glass Castle) but boy does my blood burn knowing tragedy occurs because of flaky parents. Grrrr.

  3. June 28, 2011 6:19 am

    Hi Kathy, like you, I actually like reading stories like this. I have read a book on sustainable living some time ago but it’s not tragic. The book’s called “The Moneyless Man” and I’m not sure I could live like that.

  4. June 28, 2011 7:12 am

    I’ve been in memoir mode lately – this sounds great!

  5. June 28, 2011 7:24 am

    You’ve made me really curious about this book! So sad that their parents put their lifestyle ahead of the kids.

  6. June 28, 2011 7:30 am

    Tragic and sad. I can guess what happened, perhaps. Nice review

  7. June 28, 2011 9:32 am

    Oh, this sounds too sad for me! I like to be emotionally engaged, but if I know in advance it’s going to be sad, I get afraid to read it!

  8. June 28, 2011 9:44 am

    I’ve read about the Nearing’s and thought their lifestyle was too extreme to be doable. This memoir sounds fascinating to me. Thinking about the Nearing’s, I can almost imagine the effect on children.

  9. June 28, 2011 11:02 am

    Sounds like a very interesting story,must read.

  10. June 28, 2011 11:09 am

    I really liked your review, Kathy, especially when you said, “I often idealize things like sustainable living in my head and it’s nice to have a reminder of just how difficult it is.” I think I fall into the same category. This is on my TBR, for sure.

  11. June 28, 2011 11:31 am

    I think this is one I would enjoy. I hear you when you say it is odd to say you enjoy a book about a tragedy… I will look for this in book format. 🙂

    Have a great day Kathy!

  12. June 28, 2011 11:44 am

    Oh, I think I would definitely like to read this one. It sounds like it’s an excellent read, and I sometimes also like to read about tragedy. The bit you mention about how different the family lives really piqued my interest. Great review on this one, Kathy!

  13. June 28, 2011 12:01 pm

    I’m writing down this title, because this book sounds good. It sounds fascinating and I think I’ll get the actual book instead of the audio version like you recommend. Definitely sounds tragic and I want to know more about the way this family chooses to live. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention 🙂

  14. June 28, 2011 12:32 pm

    Too bad the audio didn’t do it justice. It sounds like a fascinating story. I like the idea of sustainable living, but I know that it’s a great deal of work to get it going. There is a blogger out there (Steamy Kitchen) who just bought a new house with a large plot of land, with the hopes of creating a farm to live off of. She is now in the house, so I am keeping track of her progress. It’s so interesting to see what goes into it.

  15. June 28, 2011 12:48 pm

    Kathy, this sounds like a very touching memoir. Wonderful, well-written review, as always.

  16. June 28, 2011 1:24 pm

    Great review, sounds like a heartbreaking story.

  17. June 28, 2011 2:07 pm

    Sounds like an amazing story. I’m with you though. I think I’d enjoy this one more in print.

    • June 28, 2011 5:30 pm

      Nine and a half hours of audio would be a definite no for me too!!!

  18. Beth Hoffman permalink
    June 28, 2011 3:30 pm

    I’ve been wondering about this book, and your review has convinced me to finally pick it up. Thanks, Kathy!

  19. June 28, 2011 5:29 pm

    Hi Kathy,

    Nine and a half hours of listening to someone read aloud is some marathon, no matter how interesting or boring their voice may be. I would be driven to serious despair!!

    Memoirs are seldom my reading of choice, but I have to say that this one sounds really interesting, with a lot more social interest element than many, so I have added it to my reading list.

    Thanks for the review and recommendation, I shall definitely be on the look out for the hardcopy version!!!

  20. June 28, 2011 6:19 pm

    Wow…I love the variety in your reading/listening choices…this sounds touching and lovely…and sad.

  21. June 28, 2011 9:48 pm

    It sounds good. Depressing, but good.

  22. June 28, 2011 10:11 pm

    Glad to hear the print on this one is the way to go. I think this one sounds like quite the moving memoir.

  23. June 28, 2011 10:48 pm

    I’m drawn to tragic stories too and like you tend to romanticize a simpler way of life. This one has my attention and I would read the print version 😀

  24. June 28, 2011 11:25 pm

    This type of memoir sounds just like something I would gravitate toward. Thanks for the warning about the audio. I’m off to see if my library has a print copy.

  25. June 29, 2011 5:19 am

    I agree with your statement: “I often idealize things like sustainable living in my head and it’s nice to have a reminder of just how difficult it is.” I have similar thoughts about sustainable living. I think many of us do and books like these are helpful to remind us that it’s not all easy-going.

  26. Colleen permalink
    June 29, 2011 5:53 am

    Sounds like an interesting memoir – sad, however, that the parents let their ideals overshadow their responsibilities to the children.

  27. June 29, 2011 8:26 am

    This memoir seems like a good read (if not a good listen) as it captures the back to nature movement of that time.

  28. Veens permalink
    June 29, 2011 9:23 am

    Sad but a good story indeed. I will look out for the book here 🙂

  29. June 29, 2011 10:45 am

    I tend to romanticize many other ways of living – but I also enjoy reading the reality of it. I love your review as you have piqued my interest in this book not only for the subject matter, but for the writing style as well.

  30. June 29, 2011 11:09 am

    This one sure sounds amazing! I know homesteading is very tough – my cousin and her family have lived very much on their own and it was hard for her (the cousin). She was trying to blend into the other life and get on with the one she has. I think doing homesteading as a way of life is good, but as with any lifestyles, there are always prices to way. The earlier we are aware of them, the better. But we can still make mistakes.

  31. June 29, 2011 2:34 pm

    I tend to avoid tragic stories. This sounds just too emotional for me, even though I do find the homesteading idea pretty fascinating.

  32. June 29, 2011 9:36 pm

    Sounds like it has potential. I love when bloggers like you point out a preference for print vs. audio or vice versa.

  33. stacybuckeye permalink
    June 30, 2011 12:10 am

    Not the type of book I usually read, but sounds like one I might like!

  34. June 30, 2011 3:48 pm

    I have my own homesteading fantasies but know that it is back breaking work. I do enjoy memoirs and think I would like this one. I’m always keen to read stories that feature family dynamics like this.

  35. July 1, 2011 5:14 am

    I imagine the idealism behind homesteading life must have been a hard reality for the children, especially since it seems the children had to pay for the repercussions of neglect. Noting this one down since you’ve piqued my curiosity.

  36. July 3, 2011 9:39 am

    This is a book that I had been interested in reading. I agree with you that it is easy to idealize farming and organic farming in particular but just he little flavor that you gave here shows how backbreaking the work can be. Even aside from what happened to her and her family, she would have had a fascinating story,

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