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Where the Watermelons Grow

Review

Where the Watermelons Grow

Della Kelly feels like her life has been pretty perfect over her 12 years --- well, except for that time that Mama had to be hospitalized for her schizophrenia, but that was a long time ago and Mama is on medication now. But then one stifling hot summer night Della gets up to get a drink of water and discovers Mama at the kitchen table frantically plucking seeds from a watermelon. Mama is desperate to protect Della and her baby sister, Mylie, from the threat of the watermelon seeds; she states, “I don’t want them crawling around in your tummies and making you sick” (p. 5). From this night forward Della does everything in her power to hold on to her “perfect” life, but she feels it slipping from her grasp like a watermelon seed.

"The novel doesn’t end with happily ever after nor a definitive conclusion...but I believe that this contributes to the realistic portrayal of mental illness and its impact on a family."

In following her father’s lead, Della doesn’t tell anyone about Mama’s apparent backsliding and as a result Della and her family don’t get any support even though the neighbors and friends in their small community of Maryville, North Carolina, would be eager to help. Instead Della takes it upon herself to fix her mother. She remembers that when Mama was previously hospitalized that the doctors stressed that Mama needed rest. Therefore, Della tries to assume the primary caretaking role for Mylie and does all of her chores and as many of Mama’s as she can.

Needless to say, all of Della’s efforts cannot prevent the return of Mama’s symptoms. For me, as a reader and reviewer, this was one of the strongest aspects of WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW as the presentation of mental illness and its “cure” is realistic. In fact, one of the biggest lessons that Della learns is that perhaps it is not her mother that needs to be fixed, but rather her own perceptions of her mother. The novel doesn’t end with happily ever after nor a definitive conclusion, which may upset some readers, but I believe that this contributes to the realistic portrayal of mental illness and its impact on a family.

Although WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is a work of contemporary realistic fiction, there are many moments in the story that feel like they have an overlay of magical realism. This is particularly evident in Della’s belief in the Bee Lady’s magic honey and the hopes that she places in it to “cure” her Mama. However, this is not a work of magical realism, and the moments that hint at it never pulled me out of the realistic world presented in the novel.

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on August 20, 2018

Where the Watermelons Grow
by Cindy Baldwin