The Lengths Parents Will Go for Their Children in "Harmony", by Carolyn Parkhurst - Book Review

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.

Harmony: A Novel
By Carolyn Parkhurst

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.

Published:2016
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Elizabeth's rating 5 stars

Facing Cancer From a Surprising Source: "All You Could Ask For", by Mike Greenberg - Book Review

Mike Greenberg, most commonly known as Greenie and the co-host of ESPN’s Mike & Mike, writes a novel from the perspective of three women. Huh? I was immediately skeptical. As metrosexual and into clothes shopping as Greenie is, at heart, he’s a sports nerd and I doubted he’d be able to convincingly shift into a women’s voice without sounding insincere. I was wrong.

Written as a tribute to his dear friend Heidi who lost her battle with breast cancer, Greenberg’s All You Could Ask For centers around three women, Brooke, Samantha and Katherine, who begin the story completely unconnected to one another. By the end, they have forged friendships through their shared experience that will bind them together for the rest of their lives.

While Greenberg occasionally drops in a silly cliché (no woman ever seriously says a guy makes her quiver), his insight into the female psyche is quite prophetic. He writes about broken hearts, loneliness, motherhood, and the depths of female friendship in ways that have you forgetting he’s a male author as you read.

He writes a touching story about a touchy topic. Cancer hits people where it finds them, and not all cancer sufferers handle their diagnoses in the same way. Even as a reader, I found myself judging certain characters’ reactions to their brushes with cancer but Greenie does this on purpose, I think. He does it to hammer home the idea that it is up to every person, in this book, every woman, to decide how and what to do with her body. Her body, her choice. In that vein, Greenberg speaks to a broader issue than cancer, whether he means to or not.

All You Could Ask For is a tearjerker, but in a mostly upbeat way. While cancer is the underlying common thread, Greenberg’s focus is the bonds that can be forged between women who truly need, love, and respect one another and how unassailable those bonds are once in place.

Kudos to Greenie for having the courage to write this book, doing it so well, and so beautifully honoring the life of his friend, Heidi. On top of his meaningful story, he contributed all of his profits from the book to The V Foundation for Cancer Research to combat breast cancer.

Published: 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Elizabeth's rating: 3 ½