fiction / literary fiction

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

harmony

I picked up Harmony yesterday morning at the local library. I’ve never actually been in that branch before but it looked okay and the staff seemed more competent than the wackjobs at the Canton branch. I had Harmony on my wishlist for while (Netgalley rejected me for an ARC) so I was excited that it came in just a day or two after I requested it and read it right away.

The basic premise is a family with one 13-year-old daughter on the autistic spectrum and one 11-year-old who is NT or neurotypical move from their Washington D.C. home to start a camp with a parenting guru and two other families for families with children on the spectrum. The chapters alternate between the NT daughter, Iris and her mom, Alexandra. Alexandra’s chapters are in the past showing the progression of her desperation to help Tilly who still doesn’t have a clear diagnosis but who has been kicked out of every school and who she is reluctantly homeschooling. She attends a class run by the mildly handsome and charismatic Scott Bean who despite not having children himself, has become known for his parenting advice and help for families like hers. She also meets one of the families who ends up running the camp with her. Soon she is consulting (and paying) Scott on a near daily basis and getting some results with Tilly. Ultimately, things are put in motion for them to sell and give away most of their belongings and move to a rickety old camp to start Camp Harmony, a place where cell phones, newspaper, T.V. and processed foods do not exist.

The chapters alternate between the NT daughter, Iris and her mom, Alexandra. Alexandra’s chapters are in the past showing the progression of her desperation to help Tilly who still doesn’t have a clear diagnosis but who has been kicked out of every school and who she is reluctantly homeschooling. She attends a class run by the mildly handsome and charismatic Scott Bean who despite not having children himself, has become known for his parenting advice and help for families like hers. She also meets one of the families who ends up running the camp with her. Soon she is consulting (and paying) Scott on a near daily basis and getting some results with Tilly. Ultimately, things are put in motion for them to sell and give away most of their belongings and move to a rickety old camp to start Camp Harmony, a place where cell phones, newspaper, T.V. and processed foods do not exist.

Iris’ chapters take place during her time at Camp Harmony which while for other families is a week long stay, for her family, it is supposed to be all year long permanent home. Iris is privy to some cracks in Scott’s shining armor as a child, he places a lot of pressure on her to be the “good one” as she is NT and well behaved. He comes down harshly and scarily when she does even typical kid stuff like try to scare new campers and ignores her when she tells him a boy exposed himself to her at the camp. She doesn’t tell her parents about these incidents but it easy to see why Scott is so charming and the other parents seem so caught up in his thrall that she would think they’d dismiss her as well or think that it was no big deal. Scott also encourages the children to keep and tell secrets to him which he later uses against people.

I wish the book had some chapters from Alexandra’s perspective at the camp. You can get a few ideas of what she thinks of the rules from jokes Iris overhears and things like sneaking alcohol into the camp. However, you don’t know if she is mostly oblivious to what a nutbar Scott really is but hopes that the experience will ultimately help Tilly or is she a rabid true believer like Janelle who claims that Scott saved her kid’s life because he knocked the burning pinecone he gave the kid (who was basically a toddler) out of the kid’s hand and enthusiastically goes along with whatever he says.

The ending was rather abrupt and slightly surprising. Like the rest of the book, I wish they had gone into a little more depth about what happened and the repercussions. I liked Iris’ story a lot but I felt like Alexandra’s needed to be deeper, we get she has some angst over her husband being a better parent, and she has a difficult child but her chapters seem shallow. I also felt like we didn’t need so many chapters about the past when the action was happening in the present. Most of her worries and thoughts honestly could have been condensed into a chapter or two and her point-of-view on the present would have been welcome.

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