In Cindy Baldwin’s big-hearted debut novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, everything seems to be going wrong for 12-year-old Della Kelly. There’s currently a summer drought in her town of Maryville, North Carolina, which is bad news for the Kelly family farm―even their beloved watermelons are dying on the vine. But what worries Della the most is the fact that her mother’s schizophrenia is flaring up for the first time in four years, leaving her unable to function, much less care for Della’s 16-month-old sister, Mylie.
Della can’t help feeling that her mother’s illness is her fault, since her symptoms appeared soon after Della was born. Feeling that it’s up to her to not only to help, but cure, her mother, she seeks out Tabitha Quigley, a local beekeeper whose family’s honey seems to hold magical cures. But Miss Tabitha doesn’t offer the cure that Della yearns for, leaving her feeling more isolated and helpless than ever.
Baldwin’s portrait of a strong, loving family facing a mental health crisis is nuanced, sensitive and believable. Although Della can’t bear to confide her worries in her best friend, both she and her father slowly realize they can’t keep their problems to themselves.
One of the great strengths of this book is that Baldwin offers plenty of hope but no easy fixes. Della learns invaluable lessons and realizes she has strengths she never imagined along with supportive family and friends who are ready to help. And most of all she learns that “No sickness in the world could make my mama’s love for us less real.”
Where the Watermelons Grow is a spot-on, insightful novel about a preteen learning to live with and accept a parent’s mental illness.