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This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,127 Ratings  ·  417 Reviews
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 coupl
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Harper (first published March 31st 2011)
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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Memoirs by Women
268th out of 1,755 books — 2,107 voters
Arcadia by Lauren GroffDrop City by T.C. BoyleThis Life Is in Your Hands by Melissa ColemanCartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti TammDharma Girl by Chelsea Cain
Books about Living in a Commune
3rd out of 34 books — 9 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 02, 2011 Vicki rated it it was ok
Recommended to Vicki by: IndieBound Next List
2.5 stars. Better than okay, but not quite ... well, just not quite. Firstly, I would hesitate to even call this a memoir. It affected the fiction of being from Melissa's POV throughout, but that was a very awkward fit for most of the book. Writing about how her mom's pupils contracted the first time she saw her dad? Recounting the Nearing's reactions to finding out that her mom was pregnant? And even later, when she actually existed in the timeline, it really didn't ring true. Was 4 year old Me ...more
Jim Bronec
Jun 07, 2012 Jim Bronec rated it really liked it
When I first started farming organically someone gave me the book "living the Good Life" by Scott and Helen Nearing. It tells of there lives getting back to the land, living 100% off what they grow, and shunning themselves from most of modern day technology. I put it down half way thru because I felt them to be overbaring and judgemental in there assesment of the culture and in the promoting of their lifestyle. But most importantly I didn't believe they were being totally truthful. Turns out my ...more
Aug 08, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok
I have a distaste for “memoirs” which impute thoughts to other people, recite conversations the author could not have remembered or heard, etc.- I’d prefer it if it were called a fictionalized memoir or biography upfront. So that’s part of my problem here but I also found the writing unpolished and the theme shaky. It felt rather like Coleman was blaming her parents’ homesteading for their marital problems, her father’s hyperthyroidism, and the death of her sister, which was a bit much... yes, t ...more
McGuffy Morris
Jul 15, 2011 McGuffy Morris rated it it was amazing

To say this book is a beautifully written memoir does not do it justice. Melissa Coleman tells the story of her parents and what moved them not to be hippies, but to be true back-to-nature farmers. They were not interested in the drug culture, altering their minds, or a commune way of life. They wanted only to provide a natural, simple, down to earth life for themselves and their family.

Following the example, of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life, Eliot and Sue Coleman forg
Amanda Hogg
Aug 19, 2014 Amanda Hogg rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
On particularly smoggy LA days when it takes me over an hour to drive 17.5 miles, I sometimes dream about ditching the city and hauling ass to the country to live off the land. These daydreams take me to Sonoma, Napa - somewhere close enough to a big city where drinking a glass of wine at lunch with your garden salad is normal. Rarely, however, do my fantasies to farm take me to Maine. In This Life is in Your Hands, a couple, the author's parents, do just this.

Melissa Coleman writes about growin
3.5 stars. I won this from GoodReads.

This memoir hit me in a personal way, because I also grew up in the 70's with parents living out of the mainstream; for years I've been hungry for real depiction of what it was like, as opposed to the stereotypes we see in t.v. and movies. This Life is in Your Hands rang very true for me: the sometimes reckless idealism, the lack of boundaries, the passionate following of leaders with feet of clay. I think it's a pretty balanced portrayal, with a lot of atten
Apr 16, 2011 Marjorie rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer Kleffner
Dec 04, 2013 Jennifer Kleffner rated it really liked it
Just finished this. Eliot Coleman, the father in this story, has written several books on organic gardening. He's kind of the "go to" guru for all things organic farming. I have one of his books on my bookshelf. Hence the interest.

Actually a difficult read for me. Had I been born a bit earlier, I could have been one of these back to the land 20 something hippies of the early 70's, convinced I could be totally self sufficient, living off the land. I don't know what was more disappointing. The fac
Dec 09, 2011 Katie rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir about homesteading in the 1960s-1970s, written by someone who was a child in the homesteading family. Even though homesteading and organic gardening are not particular interests of mine (although food "politics" is), I found this book completely engrossing. It was so lyrically and poetically written, especially for a non-fiction book. The writer has a real talent for gorgeous writing, and especially writing that evokes the feel of being out in nature. What a wond ...more
Jun 03, 2012 Deb rated it liked it
Back in the 1960s and early 70s, my formative years, one of the countercultural threads running through the zeitgeist was a romantic back-to-the-land movement. I chose this book because back in those days my husband and I had fantasies of living "the good life" as defined by the movement evangelists, Scott and Helen Nearing, and this is the story of a young couple who really did it. Eliot Coleman and his wife Susan bought land adjacent to the Nearings' in Maine, and lived self-sufficiently off t ...more
Kim Miller-Davis
Jun 09, 2015 Kim Miller-Davis rated it it was amazing
A beautifully told memoir of a family's journey back-to-the-land in Maine in the 1970s. Although written by the daughter of Eliot Coleman (known for his pioneering work with organic farming), it is less a story about homesteading than it is a story about family and the ways in which human beings come to terms with joy and disappointments and tragedy. The author uses the family's intimate, tactile relationship with the natural world as the canvas for her lush portrait of human relationships, ther ...more
Anne Fitzpatrick
Oct 17, 2011 Anne Fitzpatrick rated it really liked it
I was telling my father-in-law's girlfriend about my current fascination with growing/gathering/raising one's own food (an idle fascination, since I am lazy and have no real desire to labor in a garden or chicken coop), and she told me I should read this book she'd just finished. So she sent it to me. But when I read the flap and realized that the book was also about the accidental death of a three-year-old, well--this mother of a three-year-old wasn't too enthusiastic about reading it. But even ...more
Jun 08, 2011 Maggie rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2011
I received this book through the Goodreads giveaway, and overall I wasn't too impressed. I know this is more of a memoir than it is a story, but nevertheless I grew more and more bored as the chapters went by and as the author introduced countless characters who didn't seem all that important to me. I wanted to see more of Lissie's development, but instead the story focuses on all that comes with homesteading as well as the political situation of the time.

1) My mouth started watering when
Dec 07, 2012 Kellie rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, gardening
You might like this book if you are a fan of the writings of Eliot Coleman, organic gardening expert, or you like memoirs such as Glass Castles that tell real stories of families that go through extreme circumstances.

My Review:
This book just grabbed me by the throat from the first few words and images. The writing is beautiful and almost mystical in tone. I found it by chance when I was searching my library catalog for the Eliot Coleman books I check out every year in the early spring. He is a g
Oct 06, 2011 Ciara rated it liked it
this was recommended to me by a friend. it's a memoir by a woman who was raised on a back-to-the-land homestead in the 70s. her parents were followers of scott & helen nearing. the nearings sold her parents a parcel of land & her father, eliot coleman, became pretty well known in organic faming/gardening circles, apparently. but it was far from an idyllic life. eliot suffered from hyperthyroidism, which compromised his health in pretty significant ways & exacerbated his wife's depres ...more
Oct 28, 2012 Clytee rated it really liked it
I found this book in a smallish bookstore that manages to stay open in the downtown of Bemidji, Minnesota (population about 13,000). I drove my parents to the family cabin(s) from Scottsbluff, Nebraska to Bemidji, Minnesota this summer and in the couple of days I had once we got there checked out this bookstore that I love. This was a fascinating book. The author's parents, in 1968, moved to a homestead to live off the land and became "icons of the back-to-the-land movement", but it turns out mu ...more
Kate Lawrence
Jun 13, 2011 Kate Lawrence rated it it was amazing
I was intrigued that the Colemans lived near and interacted with Scott and Helen Nearing, whose writings have been influential in my life. Without that connection, I probably wouldn't have read this book. I went to hear Ms. Coleman when she appeared at a local bookstore, which increased my interest in her story.
What a powerful memoir of idealism, hard work, misunderstanding, isolation, the rhythms of the seasons, and tragedy! Her writing style is excellent, better than I expected. Her descriptio
Apr 23, 2011 Michelle rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
3.5 stars. If you’re going to read this, whatever you do, don’t read the jacket copy. I picked this up because of excellent reviews and for some reason, about halfway through, decided to check out the jacket. Whoever wrote it did the author and this book a huge disservice because there is a major spoiler. Based on the subtitle (“a family undone”) I figured this didn’t have a happy ending, but to have such a huge (and late-breaking) plot point on the cover copy was a big mistake. I hope they chan ...more
Jul 07, 2011 Nicholas rated it liked it
The writing in this memoir of a childhood lived back-to-the-land in rural coastal Maine is mostly good, though some of the dialogue is impossibly hokey, but maybe that is what 1970s back-to-the-landers talk like? At times it is pretty impossible to believe that Coleman can actually remember most of what she recounts, largely because it occurred when she was very young. She even imputes thoughts to various people who were having them before she was born. But it's a compelling story of trial and e ...more
Sep 05, 2011 Mariah rated it liked it
This memoir of a girl growing up in the 70's to homesteading, hippie parents in Maine was well written and parts of it rang true (mostly the positive parts luckily!) with the semi-hippie parents I grew up with in rural Wisconsin. Her family had deeper issues, though, illness with her father, depression with her mother and a terrible accident that took their toll and eventually tore the family apart. I resent a bit that the fact that her family's dysfunctions were blamed on their lifestyle choice ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it
The book is not so much a story as an experience involving all of the senses. Melissa's parents were ahead of their times when they decide to forego the chemical world and grow their own food and get back to nature. Full of information regarding the chemicals used in food growing, the book provides insight to the origins of pesticides. It would almost be a politicsl book except that Melissa is simply narrating her parents', more specifically, her father's beliefs. Melissa maintains the childlike ...more
Apr 27, 2013 Madrezenith rated it really liked it
I was fascinated with this book due to a lifelong interest in homesteading, organic farming, and back-to-the-land culture. I worked for Wes Jackson in the 1990's and saw first-hand the beauty and also a bit of the dark underside of the organic farming movement. This memoir goes much deeper that my own experiences - the author (roughly my age) grew up the child of homesteader/farmers who emulated, bought land from and lived next to Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life and vege ...more
Sep 30, 2011 Agnes rated it really liked it
This memoir deals not only with family but also the idealistic approach to cultivating land, embracing nature and living the simple life. Melissa Coleman writes about her barefoot childhood with so much beauty as she compares her feelings and experiences with people to what she observes in nature.

- "when you focused on the leaves fluttering..." to end of paragraph p. 4
- Mama and Papa's interest in healthy eathing p. 22
- bottom of page 23 - the 3 objectives
- mountaineeing and "labor" p. 87
- "The
Jun 01, 2011 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great book! This is Melissa Coleman's real life memoir as she lived her childhood on a farm in Maine. Her parents decide to pack up and move to a 40 acre farm in Maine where they become involved in the growing of organic crops, tilling the soil and enduring all the hardships of what was a somewhat pioneer type existence, but was actually a hippy type commune in the 60's.
I was totally immersed in this book and thought the authors descriptions of all the beauty and wonder of childhood we
May 13, 2011 Suzanne rated it really liked it
I received this book from Good Reads First Reads--- thank you.

Having had a hobby farm of 40 acres during the back to earth movement of the 70's, I felt a personal connection to this story. The author, though a child at the time, has precious memories of the powerful influence of nature, including the smell of dirt and bark, and the wonderful feel of rain and snow in the woods. This is a fascinating story of some of the pioneers of the organic movement, and the struggles they faced. (The author's
May 04, 2011 Renee rated it it was amazing
I loved this memoir; I could not put it down. Melissa Coleman has written a timely and honest portrait of her own childhood experience in Maine with her two homesteading parents during the turbulent 1970s. Coleman's parents, decided to create their own sublime reality on 60 acres of land in Maine.

While Coleman highlights the beauty of growing up in a family culture that valued the nature’s abundance and freedom of expression, she does not falter to also expose farming's damaging effect on family
Jun 02, 2011 Gretchen rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I wanted to love this book. The set-up, the introduction of the organic farming community, and the story of the Nearing's impact on the homesteading movement are each interesting. But I couldn't get past the writing style. If you are writing your own memoir, I think it's off limits to talk about events before your birth as if you were actually present. Either you need to present only your own memories, or you need to change tone and "imagine" the conversation.
I kept with the book for the first
Colleen O'Neill Conlan
Feb 23, 2015 Colleen O'Neill Conlan rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
Other reviewers have mentioned the odd point of view in this memoir, where the author presents a level of detail and perspective that would be impossible since these events happened when she was a baby, or even before she was born. It IS somewhat distracting. Another thing, especially at the beginning of her narrative, is the constant back-and-forth in the chronology. I suppose she does this to set up a backstory, or multiple backstories. It's confusing at first, trying to figure out what is hap ...more
Rebecca Jessup
Jan 08, 2015 Rebecca Jessup rated it liked it
I would give three and 1/2 stars if I could.

Melissa Coleman's writing has a wide range, from somewhat awkward to nearly transcendent. This is definitely a memoir, but it's more than that, too, in that she recounts events that happened before she was born, and events she could not possibly remember. In spite of a few bumps over issues like these, the book definitely grabbed me and held me transfixed until I finished it. Although I now live in Maine (for the past year and a half), and I've been t
Byron Norsworthy
Aug 29, 2014 Byron Norsworthy rated it really liked it
As a former aspiring organic farmer who was inspired by Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest and New Organic Grower, when I saw this book I *had* to read it.

As a memoir by Eliot Coleman's oldest daughter, this book is written with incredible maturity, sensitivity and empathy for both her parents, when she could have easily demonized one or both of them. Melissa Coleman rises above what could be labeled a uniquely unstable and traumatic childhood and finds a reason to celebrate at every turn - if
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  • The Seasons on Henry's Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm
  • Reading My Father
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  • Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City
  • Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life
  • Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese
  • Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More
  • Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One's Own
  • Slice of Organic Life
  • Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook: Four Season Vegetable Production for the 21st Century
  • Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living
  • Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting
  • It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life
  • The Market Gardener: A Handbook for Successful Small-Scale Organic Farming
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“Fall arrived with its honey light and cool evenings, and the maple leaves brightened to match the reds and yellow of ripe apples. It was time to put away the bounty of the warm months for fortitude during the cold ones, as humans had done for centuries.” 2 likes
“Later when I thought of the chickens, one of those rare pale blue eggs rose up into my throat. The chickens had been part of our family, and the egg in my throat was the feeling of something missing. It was hard and smooth and heavy, but also so fragile it might break and make me cry. It was the feeling of growing out of a favorite shirt, milk spilled on the floor, the last bit of honey in the jar, falling apple blossoms. It was the lump in the throat behind everything beautiful in life.” 2 likes
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