Book Review: This Life is in Your Hands

“The very nature of paradise is that it will be lost.” –Melissa Coleman, This Life is in Your Hands

Title: This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone
Author: Melissa Coleman
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Source: My local public library


Set on a rugged coastal homestead during the 1970s, “This Life Is in Your Hands” introduces a superb young writer driven by the need to uncover the truth of a childhood tragedy and connect anew with the beauty and vitality of the back-to-the-land ideal that shaped her early years.

In the fall of 1968, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue—a handsome, idealistic young couple from well-to-do families—pack a few essentials into their VW truck and abandon the complications of modern reality to carve a farm from the woods. They move to a remote peninsula on the coast of Maine and become disciples of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the homesteading bible “Living the Good Life”. On sixty acres of sandy, intractable land, Eliot and Sue begin to forge a new existence, subsisting on the crops they grow and building a home with their own hands.

While they establish a happy family and achieve their visionary goals, the pursuit of a purer, simpler life comes at a price. Winters are long and lean, summers frenetic with the work of the harvest, and the distraction of the many young farm apprentices threatens the Colemans’ marriage. In the wake of a tragic accident, ideals give way to human frailty, divorce, and a mother’s breakdown—and ultimately young Melissa is abandoned to the care of neighbors. What really happened, and who, if anyone, is to blame?

“This Life Is in Your Hands” is the search to understand a complicated past; a true story, both tragic and redemptive, it tells of the quest to make a good life, the role of fate, and the power of forgiveness.

–Modified from

My Thoughts:

This isn’t the type of book I probably would have picked up on my own, but Amused by Books gave it such a glowing review that I ran right out to the library to check it out. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment or am not interested in more wholesome and sustainable ways of living, I’m just not sure I would have run across this book if it hadn’t been for her (but I guess this exposure is one of the great things about reading all your lovely blogs). My interest in sustainable living and design has grown over the past several years, and reading about the beginnings of this movement through one young girl’s eyes was fascinating.

As mentioned in the synopsis, Melissa Coleman’s parents were well-educated and from financially secure families, but instead of taking the easier (expected) route they choose to follow a dream of living a simpler life. With a handshake and a couple thousand dollars, the Colemans set out to “live the good life.” For awhile it does seem to live up to their expectations despite all of the hard work, and their family blossoms and grows. However, as their notoriety increases and Eliot (Melissa’s father) becomes more passionate about organic farming rather than homesteading, trouble begins to brew.

From the beginning I was hooked by this beautiful, tragic, and ultimately haunting memoir. The prose is lyrical and beautiful, and quickly drew me in. I loved reading about the beginnings of the farm, and the transitions the family undergoes as they adjust to their new lifestyle. Additionally, as the Colemans become more well known (thanks to an article in The Wall Street Journal), their farm becomes populated with a fascinating cast of characters who I also liked reading about. Another aspect of the memoir I enjoyed was the way the author included the events that were happening in the outside world as sort of a backdrop for her counterculture narrative.

If I had to make a critique of this book (and I did really enjoy it), it would be that the story tends to jump around. Sometimes it proceeds chronologically, but not always. Occasionally I would find myself flipping back and fourth between chapters to confirm dates and events, and I thought that detracted from the reading experience.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to learn about the beginnings of the most recent “back-to-the-land” movement, and the history of organic farming in this country. I learned many interesting things about natural living, and even jotted down a recipe from the book to try. Even though this memoir is heavy on the organic/alternative lifestyle themes, I would still recommend it to a general audience because it is ultimately a book about dreams–how we work to achieve them and how we can be changed by them.

What Others Had To Say:

Amused by Books

*Let me know if you have a review of this book posted

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 4/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The author’s brave telling of her difficult family past, and the voyeuristic experience of reading about a life very different from my own
  3. What I didn’t enjoy as much: How it was difficult at times to follow the chronology of events.
  4. I would recommend this book for: People interested in the “back to the land” movement or organic farming


Linking up with Blonde…Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shoshanah
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 17:32:45

    This does sounds like a really interesting book. It isn’t the type of book I normally pick up, but even so, it’s one I think I’d get a lot out of.


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