"Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine", by Gail Honeyman - Book Review

Oh Eleanor, you’re completely wonderful! You will go down on my list of favorite main characters.

Eleanor, a single thirty-year old living in Glasgow, has worked the same job since she was 21. She is a woman of routine. She goes to work, 9-5, five days a week and on Friday after work gets take home pizza and enough vodka to keep her not too drunk/not too sober to make it to Monday morning when she starts the whole process all over again.

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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

A Sequel Worth Reading: “After You”, by Jojo Moyes - Book Review

Is there anyone who doesn’t like Jojo Moyes? Anyone at all? Okay, now that we have that settled…

Clearly, I am a big fan of Moyes. And I’ve only read three of her novels. She is expressive, emotional, witty, and captures her characters vividly. I also love the fact that there is no obvious formula. Each story presents its own pain, joy, and wit in a way that eliminates a frequent reader’s ability to predict what’s coming.

After You: A Novel
By Jojo Moyes

After You is a rare sequel for Moyes. Me Before You, it’s prequel, was so wildly popular, her audience wanted more - demanded more. And Moyes delivered. Our protagonist Louisa is still recovering from the heartache of losing her love, Will and is lost in the world. Will gave her courage, yet she’s not yet fulfilled the potential Will knew she has, and she feels she’s letting Will and herself down. Lou is in a dead end job and still hasn’t unpacked her boxes in her London flat after living there for months. Then, she has an accident.

The accident itself doesn’t change much for her, but her family asks her to attend a support group. It’s hilarious and sad and just what Lou needs. This and the gorgeous paramedic that came to her rescue. There may be promise for her. But then enters the ghost of Will. Moyes introduces someone that rocks Lou’s world, shaking it up and knocking her around - sometimes for good, and sometimes to her detriment. 

After You did not give me the same emotional jarring as Moyes’ other works I’ve read (Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind), but it was gratifying nonetheless. I found myself cheering for not only Louisa, but for all the main characters along the way. And Moyes maintained her unique style that always seems to do the trick.

Read our reviews of other Jojo Moyes works on Beyond the Cover: Me Before You and One Plus One.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Vickie’s rating: 4 stars