Imagine: The air is so hot that it actually feels heavy on your shoulders. The air conditioning in your house is broken. All you have been looking for is to bite into a slice of cold watermelon that has been sitting overnight in the refrigerator. For 12-year-old Della Key, life isn't quite so simple. When her mom panics when Della and her baby sister eats a watermelon and forbids Della's father from fixing the air conditioner, Della knows the inevitable has happened. Her mom's sickness has returned. She can't convince her that she won't swallow watermelon seeds or that air conditioners don't emit deadly fumes, so Della does everything possible to help her mom get well. What if her mom returns to the hospital? How will she face turning 13 without her? The only thing Della wants is to be a part of a normal family, but normal seems so far away.
Author Cindy Baldwin reinforces the tension of Della's dilemma through the unrelenting weather. It hasn't rained in weeks and the crops aren't doing well. As tension heightens, thunder rumbles in the distance, but doesn't offer the promise of rain. The unending heat is so heavy throughout the book that it, in itself, becomes it's own character, fighting against any oncoming storm.
There are many ways to heighten the battle a character is facing. Using the setting is one method. In this middle grade novel, the weather mirrors the struggle Della is facing and becomes more volatile as the situation worsens. As a reader, we feel the tension on all levels of the book.
Don't be afraid to go to experiment with placing your story in different settings or even putting something in a scene that reflects how a character is struggling -- a mirror with a small crack in the corner, flowers that are starting to turn brown because of no water, a river that is raging close to overflowing its banks. The possibilities are endless. Give it a try!
Check out Where Watermelons Grow in the children's department of your local library.