Harmony
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Harmony

Carolyn Parkhurst

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in Washington DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly - a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence - is on the autistic spectrum. Once Tilly is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is at her wits' end. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behaviour 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 Alexandra and her younger daughter, eleven-year-old Iris, this is an unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable.

Review

Harmony is an empathic and topical novel about a family in crisis. The Hammond family has an eleven-year-old daughter, Iris, and thirteen-year-old daughter, Tilly, who is on the autism spectrum. Mother, Alexandra, is exhausted from advocating for Tilly’s needs, and finally having to home-school her when yet another school says they can’t cope with her behaviour. Alexandra has implemented all kinds of changes to assist Tilly, but when she becomes truly desperate she consults parenting ‘guru’ Scott Beam.

Both Alexandra and her husband Josh are impressed with Scott’s ability to engage both Tilly and Iris. Then Scott floats an idea: would the Hammonds be willing to leave their home in Washington DC permanently and work with Scott in setting up a camp for families struggling with kids ‘on the spectrum’ in New Hampshire? The lure of a fresh start, the natural environment and freedom from technology beckons, and the Hammonds agree.

We experience ‘Camp Harmony’ with Iris as our narrator. Iris is warm and funny, and alternately adores and is embarrassed by her sister. Iris is observant but understandably naïve given her age, which allows the reader to sense that all is not as it should be, and to question Beam’s motives and practices. While a bond grows between the three families involved in the Camp Harmony setup, and the children in each family make progress, some of Scott’s expectations, rules and games seem troubling. Alexandra puts her heart and soul into believing this experiment will work, but Josh remains skeptical.

I really enjoyed the growing tension in this novel. While Iris tells the ‘Camp Harmony’ story, Alexandra narrates the family’s backstory from Tilly’s birth onwards. Having the perspective of different family members made me enjoy this novel even more. This is a great winter read, and book groups will find a lot to discuss about parenting, and the autism spectrum.


Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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