Carolyn Parkhurst’s novel, Harmony, captures the reader almost immediately. The stage is set with quiet suspense as a small, young family heads to New Hampshire to begin a new life. Something is clearly going to happen and from the well-paced intensity, there is no way to determine exactly what will transpire. The Hammond family, compromised of Josh, Alexandra, Tilly and Iris, have sold most of their belongings, their home and are ready to embark on a new life together, living and working on a family camp. Tilly, the elder of the two girls, has a rare version of Autism and for Josh and Alexandra, the family camp seems like the best and perhaps last option to see a breakthrough. The novel is written through the perspectives of Alexandra, Tilly and Iris with each narrator covering different times and locations in different manners. Parkhurst’s method of narration is particularly interesting because the reader is clued in on three very different mental perspectives. Iris, although the youngest, is perhaps the clearest cut and strongest narrator, which adds another dimension to the story as well.
Located in the hills of New Hampshire, Camp Harmony is designed to be a retreat for families that have children who are faced with various behavioral issues or conditions. The camp is the brain child of the enigmatic and mildly creepy leader, Scott Bean, who also specializes in family and child behavior / therapy. Alexandra turns to Scott after feeling that her family has no other option, but as the book wears on, this choice proves to be a potentially dangerous one. The character of Scott is intense from the start and it is quite clear from the beginning of the story that he is quick to wish to inflict his beliefs and methods on all the camp residents. The first three families that arrive to help get Camp Harmony up and running all have different issues, yet all are expected to abandon patterns and routines that their families have established.
Iris is a careful, watchful narrator, wise beyond her years and the use of Tilly as a narrator also shows a different perspective, one that shows how a child with a behavioral condition might view a particular situation, an insight often not granted in the outside world. Alexandra’s dialogue is also important for it shows the love and questioning of choice that every mother or parent probably faces. All three weave the story together and as the action unfolds, Camp Harmony begins to feel like anything but a safe home. Carolyn Parkhurst is an excellent writer, one that can create a lyrical story, in the midst of turmoil. All of her characters are well developed, interesting and the shifting plot of Harmony is open, thrilling and also thought-provoking.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Pamela Dorman Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.