melissa coleman

this life is in your hands

New York Times

First Serial to O, The Oprah Magazine

“Intense readability.... haunting power.... as well as lush, vivid atmosphere that is alluring in its own right.... [A] story so nuanced that it would be a disservice to reveal what was in store. If you want to know what happened, read it for yourself.” — The New York Times

With echoes of the bestselling memoirs Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and The Liars' Club, Melissa Coleman's This Life Is in Your Hands tells the true story of a childhood burned in memory not only because it was tragic, but because it was magical, too. This is a book for our troubled but hopeful times — a memoir about the yearning for a simple, unencumbered life and the unraveling that comes from the single-minded pursuit of a dream. And it is a book that introduces a superb young writer who will move you with her evocation of a lost time and place and touch you with her willingness to expose her heart, broken open by the search for the truth.

With subtle insight and an ear for the sensual rhythms of nature, Coleman tells the story of her parents, Eliot and Sue — a handsome, idealistic young couple from proper New England families who leave behind the trappings and expectations of their blue-blood existence to forge a self-sustaining life on the rugged coast of Maine. Disciples of Scott and Helen Nearing, champions of the back to the land movement, the Colemans lay down $2,000 for sixty rocky, unyielding acres, build a cabin for $680 more, and set to work with only the crudest tools, the strength of their own hands, and the determination to create a utopia in which to raise their family and live a life in partnership with nature.

Sue bears three beautiful girls, Melissa and her sisters Heidi and Clara, and together the Colemans build upon their purist vision. They eat what they grow, live a life of simple abundance, and create a community that draws fellow seekers, students, and even a reporter from The Wall Street Journal who visits the farm to tell the family's unusual story. But the pursuit of a grand vision comes at a price. The winters are unforgiving and relentless, the isolation unnerving, and the young apprentices who travel from nearby colleges to farm the land introduce temptation and despair into the Coleman's marriage. And then, one summer day when Melissa is seven, three-year-old Heidi wanders off into the humid afternoon, disappearing into the black water of the irrigation pond they built to sustain their crops. An angelic daughter has drowned, another has survived. What really happened at the edge of those waters and who, if anyone, is to blame?

What follows is the stuff of all-too-human frailty, and ultimately the survival of the tragedy's other victim, young Melissa, in the end left deserted on the farm with only the apprentices to look after her, haunted by the need to uncover the truth of her sister's death and pull from the wreckage the beauty of a dream unfulfilled.

As a freelance writer, Melissa Coleman has covered health, food, gardening, art and travel for magazines and newspapers including The Oregonian, Rocky Mountain Magazine and Delicious Living. She has studied writing with Tom Perrotta (Little Children), Michael Lowenthal (Charity Girl) and Tom Spanbauer (The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon). Melissa lives in Freeport, Maine with her husband, Eric, and twin daughters, Heidi and Emily.

Published by HarperCollins and Harper Audio in April, 2011.

More praise for This Life Is in Your Hands:

“A fascinating look at the roots of the organic movement as well as a cautionary tale about the limits of idealism and the importance of forgiveness.”
The Washington Post
“Rendered with sublimity…. [Coleman] fluently describes the power of the natural world, familial love and heartbreak, grace after loss.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Coleman’s moving recounting never loses hope of redemption.”—People, Lead Review "People Pick

 “The Colemans and the Nearings . . . worked hard to create an alternative economy that is still growing in rural America. This memoir is evidence of their great sacrifices.” — The Los Angeles Times
“Combine the sincerity of Walden with the poignancy of The Glass Castle, add dashes of the lush prose found in The Botany of Desire, and you get This Life Is in Your Hands…. I was engaged and deeply moved by this evocative tale of Paradise found then lost.” — Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed
“[This] is a rare breed of book-a memoir that justifies its own existence; that feels like it needs to exist…. Coleman shows that without the essential ingredient of heart, any family-no matter how perfect and revolutionary it seems-is in danger of experiencing real loss.” —

“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, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
“With beautiful lyrical prose, Coleman shows us what life in a 1970s back-to-nature farm was like, and the dear price her family paid pursuing their dream.” — Ann Hood, author of The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle

“Her memoir is as wrenching as it is beautifully written.” — The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 “Melissa Coleman’s enthralling account of ‘70s back-to-the-land living is an important cultural and emotional document: this is a story about surviving and, eventually, thriving amidst the shadows of loss.” — Heidi Julavits, author of The Uses of Enchantment
“A dream, a family, a heartbreaking tragedy—and a book I could not put down. Melissa Coleman’s memoir of a back-to-the-land childhood is fresh, organic, and gorgeously written.” — Peter Behrens, author of The Law of Dreams