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.
I’ve read a lot of good books lately and a lot of bad, leaving me in such a reading slump that I picked up about ten books, putting each back down before even getting to 50%. When a friend of mine heard this, they suggested “Where the Watermelons Grow”, which I was lucky enough to have received an ARC for earlier this year. And I’m so thankful I had. This book is an amazing read that faces the reality of living with someone with a mental illness and more, so the ones not talked about in popular media.
This book follows Della, the oldest of two girls in a family living on a farm, struggling to make ends meet due to a drought and a host of other issues. One night, Della walks into the kitchen to find her mother carving up a watermelon, saying she didn’t want her or her little sister to swallow the seeds and that it would make them sick. This is the hint of what is coming. You see, her mother had schizophrenia, an illness she had suffered from since Della was born and who often blames herself for having ‘triggered’ the illness. We follow Della as she learns to accept her mother’s illness and that there was no magical fix for it.
This book is basically the book all of us who suffer from the less popular mental illnesses such as anxiety and clinical depression. It talks about mental illness in a smart and honest way. Della becomes obsessed with the idea that the magic bee honey in town can fix her mother, when she finds out that it can’t, she then searches for ways she can fix it, having blamed herself for the illness in the first place. This book is honest and heartfelt. I struggled to put this book down for days, even reading it in the last few minutes before I went into surgery yesterday.
The writing in this book is lovely. The characters even more lovely. As Della learns that not all families are perfect as those seen on TV, that there’s such thing as a found family, and that nothing is ever what it seems, we go through the ride and steps with her. Della is at the age where she wants to believe in magic honey and that the world can be easily fixed. When none of it goes as planned, she tries harder and harder to make these things happen.
My all-time favorite thing about this book is the how it talked about mental illness. While people like to pretend that things like honey and nature can cure mental illness (from those who don’t have it), this book puts an end to this idea right away. There is no magic. Just medicine and professional help. It’s a hard we all face either due to a loved one with it or ourselves. There is no magic cure, no matter how hard we might wish.
The portrayal of mental illness struck home. I found it done well and in an order that actually makes sense. There are triggers, there are moments of believed clarity, of moments of sharp downturns and a need for control. This book doesn’t pretend otherwise. And the writing makes it clear, there is no magic cure, period. The honey only works as ‘magic’ because it helped people find strength and hope within it. As nice as a magic story is, there’s more to it. Always.
I highly, highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read that will keep you reading no matter what.