Monday, August 29, 2016

Carolyn Parkhurst's "Harmony"

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly "normal" family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a "family camp" in New Hampshire--a life-changing experience that alters them forever.

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally--a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly--whose condition is deemed undiagnosable--is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. 

The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior 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 both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book's Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable. ~taken from Goodreads

I have to say, as a parent of a special needs child, I was very excited to read this book. Parents, Alexandra and Josh, are willing to do whatever they can to help oldest daughter, Tilly, who has been diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum. She has been kicked out of all the schools she has attended for "being disruptive", and her parents feel that uprooting the entire family, including younger sister,  Iris, and moving to Camp Harmony is the only option they have left.

Harmony (the camp) is a place where families with special needs children can come and stay for a week and Alexandra and her family are one of the families that live there permanently to help run the camp. Camp Harmony director, Scott Bean, believes that families need to "detox" which means no cellphones, computers, televisions, etc.. 

As the book progresses we see that Scott's cool and calm manner diminishes and his rules become stricter and are more based on his personal preferences rather than reason. This book reaches its climax when parents Josh and Alexandra are forced to confront Scott about his actions and whether this is actually helping their daughter.

This was an interesting, funny, and dark read. The characters are presented in what I felt was "real life" characters. No sugar coating- the good and bad thoughts and feelings of how it is to live with an autistic child. This story is told in alternating perspectives (some flashbacks also) between mother, and younger sister with a few little chapters told from Tilly's perspective. 

At this book's core it is the story of a desperate family willing to try anything they can to help their daughter and sibling. Like I mentioned before, this was real life. There are parts that made me angry, parts that made me laugh, parts that made me cringe and parts that made my heart hurt with sadness. Though I didn't always agree with the parents choices and actions, I could understand that they did what they thought they had to. Who was I to judge a parent when I have never been in the situation they were presented with? I think Parkhurst did an excellent job portraying the challenges of raising a child on the autism spectrum.  

The ending seemed abrupt and unfinished. Perhaps a bit unrealistic. The ending left me wanting more- I felt I needed to know the long term impact that communal living left on the family. 

Overall, this was a 4 star read for me. This plot was well-paced with characters that were interesting and well developed. Though I had a somewhat personal connection to the story, being a special needs parent myself, I think anyone will finish this book and wonder how they can better help family or friends who are raising a child who is "not typical". 

Happy Reading!

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