I recommend this book to any parent. Is it a parenting book? No. Is it a how-to or a self-help? No. It isn’t even non-fiction, it is a novel about a family. A mom and a dad with one daughter who is “neurotypical” (Read: normal) and one daughter who is ultimately diagnosed with “pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified” (Read: somewhere on the autism spectrum with possibly some ADHD, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, we’re not really sure what else or how to treat her).
Harmony alternates being told by the precocious, younger daughter, Iris, and the adoring but barely keeping it together mom, Alexandra. The family’s journey through diagnosis and figuring out how best to care for Tilly and her issues leads them to a rural locale outside of D.C. There, they are going to help a gregarious, somewhat mysterious leader, Scott Bean, set up Camp Harmony where they will live semi-off the grid and help other families with problem children. Sound like a cult? Yeah, it did to me too.
And that is the major plot line. But, at its center, this book is about the lengths parents will and must go in order to care for those ‘not’ normal children. And about how raising such children is both incredibly painful and simultaneously joyous. Because while such a child “can’t do” and “doesn’t have”, that child might also possess exceptional skills and talents that are a true wonder to experience. About how, yes, the child may be wounded on many levels but also gifted on countless others.
But, for these parents, how do they walk that precarious tight rope of praising their child’s Mensa-level brain and cringing in mortification as that same child is compelled to lick every surface in each public place they go? Parkhurst’s addressing of these issues and writing of her characters made me certain she had specifically dealt with similar circumstances. After reading up on her, I learned that she, in fact, has a son with Asperger’s and a second ‘normal’ child.
I think Harmony is a love letter to both of her children. But she writes that letter around a tense story line that keeps you turning the pages. There is some ominous foreshadowing along the way about a time ‘after’ Camp Harmony and even some brief interludes written by Tilly herself about ‘what happened.’ As you read, you’re never quite sure if Scott Bean is a Billy Graham or a Jim Jones and if the story will end in the singing of Kumbaya around the camp fire or a Jamestown – which makes it impossible to put down.
Parkhurst weaves a captivating story around a desperate family’s need to find salvation. The result is an explosive novel with a deep well of emotions that is definitely worth your time.
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Elizabeth's rating 5 stars