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

Terrifying Truth in "A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy", by Sue Klebold - Book Review

This book is not a cautionary tale, it is a horror story. Not just because of the tragedy that unfolded at Columbine High School that fated day in 1999, but because of what was going on inside the Klebolds house up until then: NOTHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY. 

The pressing question in everyone’s mind when they think about the parents of Dylan Klebold is: How did they not know? The simple answer is: They didn’t.

In her gut wrenching new book, Sue Klebold will convince even the biggest of skeptics that neither she nor her husband, both actively involved parents in each of their sons’ lives, had a clue of what was going on inside their child’s mind and outside of their home. 

Klebold wrote this book as a warning. 

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Ain’t No Haints in the “The Turner House”, by Angela Flournoy - Book Review

“Ain’t no haints in Detroit” is a Turner family mantra that originated on the night Cha-Cha, the oldest of thirteen Turner children, wrestled a ghost in his room on Yarrow Street. While many of the other Turners were convinced of Cha-Cha’s vision, his father, Francis, was not, and coined the phrase. By the time the last Turner child, Lelah, was old enough for it’s usage, the saying was used to end a discussion. If another Turner didn’t buy whatever it was you were trying to sell, they’d stop you in your tracks with a flippant, “c’mon man, ain’t no haints in Detroit.”

The Turner House, by author Angela Flournoy, is about a large African American family and their goings on in Detroit. While most of the book is set in 2008, there are flashbacks to the Turner family beginnings in 1944 when Francis and Viola were newly married. With Cha-Cha on the way, Francis left Viola in Arkansas and went to Detroit to find work. These flashbacks let us know just how close the last twelve Turner children were to never being born.  

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Brotherhood and Enmity in "We Were Brothers: A Memoir", by Barry Moser - Book Review

Barry Moser grew up the younger of two brothers in small town Chattanooga, Tennessee in the 40’s and 50’s. Barry and Tommy shared a bedroom, friends, and had almost identical experiences growing up. Eventually one did well in business, and the other succeeded in academia. We Were Brothers is Moser’s memoir of growing up in a racist community with a brother he didn’t get along with. In fact, these brothers were adversaries until late in life, and only then, through a series of letters, did they reconcile. But they only had a short time to enjoy their amity, as Tommy died in his 60’s.

We Were Brothers
By Barry Moser

There are no big plot twists and no adventurous journeys. We Were Brothers is simply one man’s story of a dysfunctional family. We are all familiar with them whether in fiction or in our own lives.  However, what stands out here is Moser’s candor, and his publication of actual letters exchanged between the brothers. Neither come out complimentary. Moser is willing to expose not only his brother’s dark underside, but his own. He fully admits that he is telling this version of the story through his eyes, allowing us to consider Tommy’s alternate view. And as with many southern writers, Moser describes the learned prejudices and political sway of white families. The divide with his brother is enhanced when Barry moves north and becomes a “recovering racist”.

Though the book is prosaic throughout, there are moments of grace. It was interesting and a quick read; however, I may stick with Moser’s artwork (which is quite good and for which he is known), instead of his writing in the future.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Books

Vickie’s rating: 3 stars 

Parenting Without Power Struggles, Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected, by Susan Stiffleman

Having a soon to be three year old, I read this book with the hopes of learning how to navigate disagreements with my son without acting like a toddler myself. Right off the bat, Stiffelman suggests that threats and bribery, two methods I routinely use at dinner, are ineffective. She advises that to be an effective “Captain of the Ship,” a parent needs to come along side a child rather than right at them.  Threats and bribery, she argues, turn child and parent into ‘two attorneys’ locked in battle with no one in charge. This rang true to me especially since I am an attorney.

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