Looking for great novels for tweens? These are some of our favorites from 2018!Read More
I have read so few middle grade books touching upon a parent with mental illness, yet it affects an astounding number of adults in the United States. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that 1 out of every 5 American adults experience mental illness in a given year. Of these, 1 in 100 American adults live with schizophrenia. What do these staggering statistics tell us then? Mental illness is not taboo. And the fact that there are so many adults afflicted means there are children struggling to make sense of a parent’s disease. How can we help these children feel less alone and more understood? One answer is to give them books in which they can see themselves and their stories.
Enter Where the Watermelons Grow, a powerful new middle grade novel by Cindy Baldwin. This beautiful book tells the story of Della Kelly, a tween girl whose mother suffers from schizophrenia. The book opens with Della’s mother digging seeds out of a watermelon in the middle of the night, talking to people only she can see, and Della at once knows her mother is being tugged back down a dangerous road that once landed her in the hospital for months. With her Dad distracted by trying to save the family farm and her mom spinning out of control, Della decides she is the only one that can heal her mama and save her family - and she refuses to let others in for help. Will Della be able to hold her family together as her mother’s symptoms worsen by the day?
I love Where the Watermelons Grow for so many reasons. First, its tackling of mental illness felt authentic at every step. It provided gut-wrenching, yet age appropriate details of schizophrenia, giving children a glimpse into this disease in a way that felt both informative for those who haven’t experienced it, and trustworthy for those who have. More importantly, though, I loved Della’s emotional journey and the way in which she matured during the story. Our protagonist went from keeping her mother’s secret buried deep down, not only for fear of what others would think of her family but because of her own fear that she somehow caused or contributed to the sickness. Yet as her mother worsened, Della matured enough to understand that not only was she in no way responsible for the illness, but allowing others to support her would give her the love and strength she needed to survive. Community can be healing, but sometimes, we shy away from that very notion because letting others in to our family secrets can be downright frightening. Della’s eventual acceptance of her mother’s schizophrenia - and the recognition that it is not a badge of shame upon her family- resonated deeply and reminds readers that all families struggle with challenges, but there are always people who will be there to help. We just have to let them in. A beautiful, tender and poignant novel.
For another, totally different yet wonderful read about a child struggling with a parent’s mental illness, check out our review of The Secret of Nightingale Wood, by Lucy Strange.
Want the book? Get it here: Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin. *This is an affiliate link. HEE received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions contained herein are expressly our own.
Wow. WOW. My gosh, was this book fantastic! Amal Unbound was an emotional, powerful story, one I read so quickly because I simply could not put it down. Set in a poor Pakistani village with themes of social hierarchy, education, and indentured servitude, this was a searing "window" book that opened my eyes to the tragic circumstances and sacrifices that children in some communities must experience to save their families from ruin.
Amal Unbound, elegantly written by Aisha Saeed, is the story of Amal, a bookish, smart girl with dreams of becoming a teacher. But one day at the market, Amal mouths off to the wrong man: Jawad, son of her village’s wealthy landlord. In order to pay off the debt for her insulting behavior, Amal is forced into indentured servitude with his family, leaving her own family behind. At the landlord’s pretentious home, Amal sees firsthand the dangers of illiteracy and gender inequality, and she begins sneaking books from the library and teaching others to read. When Amal is sent by the family to be a patron at the village's new literacy center, she recognizes that her education has given her a powerful hand- the ability to take a critical stance against corruption.
A poignant exploration of unjust power structures and the extreme consequences families must endure to repay debts for “poor” behavior, Amal Unbound will be an eye opener for so many students. It is an important testament to the power of education and the way words can change worlds and correct damaging social injustice and corruption. Knowledge is power, and literacy, in this story, truly becomes Amal’s key to freedom. This is an important read for all upper elementary and middle school students students -- a story of literacy, resistance and, ultimately, sweet sweet justice. Amal Unbound is hands down one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2018 so far. Two trunks up!
Want the book? Get it here! Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed. *This is an affiliate link. Happily Ever Elephants received an advanced review copy of this book, but all opinions expressed herein are entirely our own.