Thursday, August 4, 2016


Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/2/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 399562600

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst is a very highly recommended, original modern family drama.

Alexandra and Josh Hammond are raising two girls, Tilly, 13, and Iris, 11. They have struggled with the challenges of raising Tilly, who is on the autism spectrum and has officially been diagnosed as PDD-NOS, or "pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified." Tilly can be remarkable, but she can also be overwhelming. Alexandra has been talking and getting advice from Scoot Bean, a child development counselor/parenting guru. The Hammond's have decided to sell their home, get rid of most of their possessions, and accept the invitation to join Scott Bean in the establishment of a family camp. Camp Harmony is a wilderness camp located in New Hampshire. More importantly, it is a place that focuses on families with special needs children.

Once they arrive, it seems that Scott, while charismatic, is also much more controlling than they thought he would be.  Camp Harmony begins to resemble a cult.

The story is told through three different narrators: Iris, Alexandra, and Tilly. Iris tells the story of what happens at Camp Harmony. Her observations are clear, precise, and very perceptive. She shares details that raise some red flags and help give the reader a reliable and complete picture of Camp Harmony. Alexandra shares the backstory, how she and Josh met, raising the girls, the different struggles they have had with Tilly, and how Scott Bean helped. Tilly has entries written from an unspecified place and time. They are astute, stunning monologues that show the way Tilly thinks and give glimpses into the future of the Hammond family.

I thought this was a brilliant literary novel. The writing is wonderful. The alternating narratives help create a feeling of anticipation and suspense as information slowly builds up and increases the tension. You will be finding yourself reading as fast as you can to find out what happens next. Scott Bean is a character, but he can also stand for an idea, a concept - yet another new way to approach autism.

The narratives also help develop the three lead female characters. They are complex individuals with their own frailty and failings, but also strengths and talents.  Parkhurst explores what makes up the fabric of a family bond and the experiences that help cement the relationships. She honestly examines parenting a child on the spectrum, and how that can feel through the eyes of one individual woman.

I totally agree with the reviews that mentioned that Harmony would be a perfect choice for bookclubs. There is more here than the story of a family looking for some help, some answer.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

No comments: