Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I found out about this book via Amazon's 10 Best Books of August 2016 and decided to give it a try for a couple of reasons: 1. my book blog is hurting for current reviews in the worst way and 2. it seemed to have enough intrigue for a great summer read. I am a huge fan of The Mosquito Coast and was hoping for something with a similar flavor since it seemed like the build-up was leading to creating a mini utopia only for things to go terribly wrong.
The Hammond Family, of Washington, DC, buys into a commune led by parenting expert, Scott Bean, in the hope of finally creating an ideal, toxin and bullying-free environment for their daughter, Tilly who is afflicted by some form of Aspergers. The story unfolds through the alternating viewpoints of Iris, Tilly's younger sister, Alexandra, their mother, and Tilly. As expected, this makes it difficult to determine how much is objectively true. What we know for sure is the family moves to Camp Harmony in New Hampshire to start a new life. They meet other families in a situation similar to theirs: they have a child that just doesn't seem to fit in anywhere, and Scott Bean was the first person to give them any sense of hope. Soon, they take guest families at the camp. Each group of guest campers offers some view into what continues to happen as life outside the camp passes them by, and reminds them of how much control Scott has over them in their little corner of New Hampshire. Eventually, the tensions created by these glimpses of the outside world lead the younger ones in the group to question if things really are better on the inside, and things heat up when it comes to Scott's attention that his view of the ideal community is about to be challenged.
Parkhurst tackles a very interesting idea here, and she does so with terrific attention to character and voice. I especially enjoyed the passages Tilly narrates. They're so delightfully surreal and provide just the right balance of tragic foreshadowing and doubt. This was one of those books that was almost impossible for me to put down. I kind of knew where the story was headed, but kept hoping for a different outcome because I was totally invested in the characters. It's definitely a good read.
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