Watermelon Summer
by Anna Hess

CreateSpace, 2013. ISBN 978-1-494-40580-9.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 02/05/2014

Fiction: Mainstream; Teen/Girls

From the moment I saw the cover of this book, with its heart-shaped slice of watermelon, I was entranced. I am, I admit, an "old hippie" and have done the homesteading, back-to-the-land gig, although never on a communal basis, so the story spoke to me on several levels.

Anna Hess wove a subtly beautiful tale, based, at least in part, on her own childhood memories. It is marketed toward young adults, yet I believe that just about anyone picking up this book and browsing its pages will be drawn in to the story. Forsythia, the young protagonist, has chosen not to have a tour of Europe, instead opting for a visit to Greensun, the "intentional community" where she was conceived. Her reasons are many and somewhat tangled in her mind; maybe meeting the biological father she never knew, or a chance to explore a new and different culture or just a fulfillment of the wish of independence.

Greensun is close to "going out of business." The last thing on the agenda is a meeting, to discuss whether or not to save what the locals call "Hippie Holler." Thia (Forsythia's nickname) is a level headed girl, whose concepts of Greensun are somewhat romanticized in her head, but as we share with her the reality and lifestyle of intentional communities (called Communes in my day!) we can see the value and appeal of such a deliberate way of life.

The first wrinkle in the road Thia travels to arrive at Greensun (which is in a fictional part of West Virginia) involves the complete lack of public transport between the airport in Kentucky and her destination. Latching on to a young man near her age of almost-18, who runs a taxi service, she accepts a ride to Greensun. It is getting late in the day when Jacob reluctantly drops her off at the remote road leading to Hippie Holler.

Hess' writing is addictive; she draws you in to the alternating tales of Thia's modern day experiences and her mother's 20-year-old memories of life on a remote farm. From the time Thia meets Lucy, the dog with a handwritten tag around her neck informing Thia that "Lucy does not bite," until she meets the initially deliciously heart-warming Kat, her life takes on an enchanting new direction.

There are messages and lessons here, in Hess' first foray into fiction. But the story provides these subliminally, in such a way that any young adult reading this would only find a story of courage, humor, and creativity. The appendix entitled "Excerpts from Thia's Journal" is really charming, with sketches and recipes and homestead ideas.

With the current wave of joblessness and financial cutbacks, many are returning to this lifestyle of smallholding and living off the land. But even if that is not on the agenda for you, this highly-readable young-adult book will find a spot on your bookshelf to be read again and again.

Anna was trained as a biologist and now turns her scientific leanings toward experimenting with no-till gardening, mushroom propagation, and chicken pasturing. She dreamed about moving back into the countryside ever since her parents moved away from their family farm when she was eight. You can find much more about her and her partner, Mark, on her blog.

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