Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by Penguin-Random House First-to-Read program in exchange for an honest review. No other remuneration was received.
Book Title: HARMONY
Author: Carolyn Parkhurst
Publisher: Penguin/Random House
Category: General/Literary Fiction
Author’s Website: http://www.carolynparkhurst.com/
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Main Characters: The Hammond Family
Find It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound
Source: ARC provided by NetGalley/Penguin-Random House/Edelweiss, ebook format
2.5 Batty Moons!
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.
READ ON FOR MY REVIEW!
I’m not going to lie–I had no idea what to expect from HARMONY. When it comes to literary fiction, anything goes.
This book gave me the creeps from jump. The entire concept of uprooting your family, throwing away everything your children have known (literally) and making some radical Luddite lifestyle change in a cultish camp deep in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, based on the philosophy of a completely childless child behavior “expert” struck me as completely ludicrous. Really? Just… dump your life, give away all your stuff, and move to a pest-ridden cabin in the woods? No. It read like a horror novel to me, and whatever message I was supposed to get about family resilience or living with a behaviorally-challenged child was completely buried under that untenable premise for me.
I honestly don’t think I ever got past the disgusting conditions these parents forced their children into, led by this utter creep of an “expert” (he reminded me of a particularly foul Dr. Phil, all ego and condescension couched in pseudo-psychological garbage). Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Hammond are particularly sympathetic. Dad should have stood up more for his kids and building a normal life as possible in the real world. Mom was clearly so self-obsessed and concerned with what others thought, I didn’t buy for a moment that she cared much about her children at all except for how their behavior reflected on her.
The story was compelling, watching the tension crank progressively upward, and the behavior guru’s sanity spiral downward driving me to keep turning the pages, even though I felt queasy through much of the events. The characters of Tilly and Iris were terrific. Nice portraits in human opposites. I don’t know much more than the basics about the Autism spectrum, but I found Tilly’s internal life impossible not to get involved in.
When it comes to cults, however, I don’t understand the entertainment value in a situation like this. A thriller? Murder mystery? Horror story? Sure, but this entire premise just freaked me out to the point that I had a problem staying with the parts of the story I did find interesting. While it’s true that I don’t understand the heartbreak of having a “difficult” child, I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would join this kind of group! Maybe because I grew up in an era when cults meant hundreds of people drinking poisoned Kool Aid, putting on a uniform before killing themselves in anticipation of the arrival of the mothership, or collecting an arsenal of guns and challenging the federal government to a deadly confrontation.
Like a lot of other topics, unless it’s written with sensitivity and true understanding of the ramifications, I just don’t like to read about it. The climax was almost painful, and the epilogue just…didn’t work for me. I am not sure quite how to rate HARMONY. It was written in a unique way, some of the characters were interesting and others worth loathing, and part of the plot was fascinating, while the other was just disturbing. I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend it, but overall it just wasn’t to my taste.
With those things in mind, I’m going to have to give HARMONY:
2.5 BATTY MOONS!