Written by Carolyn Parkhurst
Published by Penguin Random House on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Psychological, Family Life
Gorgeously written and patently original. Jodi Picoult, "New York Times"bestselling author of"Leaving Time" In this gripping, timely novel, Carolyn Parkhurst follows the Hammond family as they give up everything. . . and ultimately reveals the healing power of love. Kim Edwards, the #1"New York Times"bestselling author of"The Memory Keeper s Daughter" A fascinating tale of a family taking a crazy risk to save themselves. I read it in one giant gulp "Harmony"is absolutely riveting. Jami Attenberg, "New York Times"bestsellingauthor of"The Middlesteins" "From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly "normal" family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a "family camp" in New Hampshire--a life-changing experience that alters them forever." How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally--a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly--whose condition is deemed undiagnosable--is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book's Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable."
A Family Seeks to Turn Discord into Harmony
- What’s it about?
Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst is the story of a family whose attempt to address one crisis lands them in a bigger one.
As Alexandra and Josh Hammond’s older daughter Tilly enters her teens, raising her is becoming increasingly challenging. Intellectual development beyond her years coupled with social and emotional intelligence that didn’t keep pace got Tilly identified as having PDD-NOS at an early age. She has never been a particularly easy child, but even her special-needs school can’t keep up with her anymore. Alexandra is at the end of her rope when she turns to parenting expert Scott Bean, a specialist in children with developmental disorders. When he proposes that the Hammonds join him in a new venture to promises to help families like theirs, they’re desperate enough to say yes, They know things need to change. They have no idea how dramatically they will change.
The Hammonds will become part of the “Core Family” living year-round at Camp Harmony in New Hampshire, helping to illustrate Scott’s approach to the “guest campers” who come for week-long sessions. But Scott’s approach comes across a bit differently when they’re immersed in it 24/7…and so does he. Before long, it’s not entirely clear just what the Hammonds have signed up for.
- Why did I read it? This was the first selection for the return of the Online Book Club hosted by Gayle at Everyday I Write the Book. I’ve also read two of Parkhurst’s previous novels, The Dogs of Babel (pre-blog) and Lost and Found.
Sounding Out the Notes
- What worked for me? Parkhurst writes Harmony in three different, distinct voices. The primary action of the novel–the summer at Camp Harmony–is narrated by Iris, Alexandra and Josh’s neurotypical younger daughter. Alexandra’s sections are written in the second person, reflecting on the family’s struggles with Tilly and the path that led them to New Hampshire. Tilly is credited with several brief sections written as “history” from an unspecified time after the family’s experience at Camp Harmony. The shifts in viewpoint contribute foreshadowing and alternate perspectives, braiding the plot together and keeping it moving. In addition, Parkhurst is the mother of a son with Aspergers. Her experiences inform Harmony’s perspectives on parenting and living with special-needs children.
- What didn’t I like? I didn’t outright dislike anything about Harmony, but I did have a few issues. Iris, who narrates the bulk of the novel, is supposed to be 11 years old. Her age aligns with limits of her perspective and understanding of some events in the story. It also may help explain why some plot and character developments feel underdeveloped or sudden. On the other hand, there are places where the writing just felt too mature for the character.
- Recommended? Definitely. Harmony is an intelligent and engaging novel, and I thought it was well-paced, empathetic, and thought-provoking.
In another world, you make it work. In another world, you never even hear the name “Scott Bean.” Or you do, and you maybe even subscribe to his newsletter, but on the night that he comes to speak at a library not far from your house, Iris is sent home from school with a stomach bug, or Josh is out of town and you don’t want to hire a sitter. You figure you’ll catch him next time. Later, when you hear his name on the news and it sounds familiar, you shake your head and think, “What a wacko.” It doesn’t even occur to you to say, “That could have been me.” Because you know yourself, and it goes without saying. You would never get mixed up in something like that. End of story.
June 3, 2012: New Hampshire
The camp is in New Hampshire. We’ve been driving for two days now—well, not literally, because we stopped at a hotel overnight and we’ve taken breaks to eat and go to the bathroom, but you know what I mean. We’ve been driving for two days, approximately, and I can’t decide if I want to be there already or not.