Della Kelly is burdened by a secret she can't share with anyone, not even best friend Arden: her mother's mental illness, under control for the past four years, is starting to recur. Della's father, already stressed by drought conditions on their North Carolina farm, is not ready to face what's happening. "It's important for your mama to have dignity," he tells Della. "[L]ots of people, they don't understand an illness like... schizophrenia.... They... start to use hurtful words, like 'crazy' and 'psychotic,' and start seeing a person as just a disease, not a human being." Since the original illness was triggered by Della's birth 12 years earlier, she feels responsible for finding a solution. She thinks working harder around the house and farm, caring for her toddler sister and taking on more chores will help. When this doesn't work, she runs away, believing her mama will be forced to rise to the occasion of behaving like a mother again. Most of all, though, she hangs her hopes on the legendary miraculous qualities of the honey from the local Bee Lady. It's only when her mother goes from bad to worse that Della and her father must come to terms with what will likely be a lifelong condition and find the strength to ask for help.
Cindy Baldwin's graceful debut novel is an ode to family and community. Although Della longs for her own mother, she's surrounded by "other mamas" who look out for her, who "sing a song to that little fluttering thing [hope] in [her] soul." Hints of sweet magical realism touch Where the Watermelon Grows, balancing this exquisite novel's bittersweet authenticity. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor