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This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,512 ratings  ·  458 reviews
“Lyrical and down-to-earth, wry and heartbreaking, This Life Is in Your Hands is a fascinating and powerful memoir. Melissa Coleman doesn’t just tell the story of her family’s brave experiment and private tragedy; she brings to life an important and underappreciated chapter of our recent history.” —Tom Perrotta 

In a work of power and beauty reminiscent of Tobias Wolff, Jea
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Harper Perennial (first published March 31st 2011)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Start your review of This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Amanda Hogg
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Bronec
Jun 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
McGuffy Morris
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Jan 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: heard
This was a fascinating glimpse into the Back-To-The-Land movement of the late sixties/early seventies. I was on the very fringes of this, eating whole wheat spaghetti ("It's chocolate!" my dad would insist) and taking alfalfa tablets to ward off I have no idea what. We drank powdered milk, and we went to the bar for fresh squeezed carrot juice ("Sweet, isn't it?" asked my dad) after we'd ploughed up the little backyard for vegetable gardening. But we lived, nonetheless, in the city. I had a flus ...more
Jun 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennifer Kleffner
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 fa
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
Kim Miller-Davis
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
Hank Stuever
The writing is tone-perfect but I had an issue with the structure. Knowing about the sister right away (including jacket copy) made it less interesting from the start. Three stars for effort but also take it with a grain of salt: I didn't finish the book. I can see why many others have enjoyed it, especially the domestic details of a family that decided to go off the grid. ...more
Savanna (savbeebooks)
I am one who loves memoirs, however, I really couldn't get into this one. It feels like it was less of a memoir and more of a work of fiction with some parts of a memoir?? The entire book is written from the perspective of the main character from before she was even born through age 7. How does one write a memoir from before she was even born!? I feel like there really wasn't much happening either, it kept bringing in more people to the book and strayed away from the actual story that was suppos ...more
Nov 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Convinced me that I would probably not be good at homesteading. But also an interesting look at grief.
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great memoir. I had listened to Melissa Coleman's Ted Talk just before reading it. Please do; it rounds things out. ...more
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Beautifully written story about living naturally. Unfortunately, tragedy is also natural.
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a sad and traumatic upbringing.
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was one of thousands of young people in the late 60s and early 70s who wanted to get back to the land. I managed to have a large garden, become a vegetarian, grind my own flour, make my own bread and yogurt, grow my own alfalfa sprouts. But I kept my day job, fortunately, so i could afford to build a rock ‘n roll collection, buy an awesome stereo and pay for the electricity to power it. I say “fortunately” because the full-tilt back-to-the-land movement meant, as author Melissa Coleman put it, ...more
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 depression. & when ...more
Apr 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Kate Lawrence
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 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
this book is amazing. lyrical and moving, utterly absorbing and utterly heartbreaking. i literally could not put it down. i read it, start to finish, in less than one day.

the author describes growing up as part of the back to the land movement of the '70's, telling us her memories of the times and the farm and the people. there are places where you know she is relying on other people's memories, but it doesn't take anything away from the book.

the struggles of her parents to break ground and cre
Anne Fitzpatrick
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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