Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

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Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The story of how a family with an autistic child move to a camp in New Hampshire in the hope of building a better life for them all. Beautifully written and utterly compelling.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0340978177

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Josh and Alexandra Hammond have two daughters. Iris is eleven years old and neurotypical: her brain works in the same way as most people's, but her elder sister, Tilly, is thirteen and on the autistic spectrum. Her parents are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to cope with her. Even her special and rather expensive school has indicated that they can't continue. She's subject to mood swings and unpredictable and inappropriate behaviour. Josh is lucky - he goes to work - but Alexandra is stuck with the problem, which is why Scott Bean, educator and expert in parenting, appeals to her. The name came to her attention on a couple of occasions: she subscribed to his newsletter, heard him speak and what he had to say rang a bell. Before long he was coming to the house for private consultations.

It seemed that there might be some improvement in Tilly's behaviour and Alexandra is prepared to try anything as Tilly makes her feel like a failure:

If you can't find a way to help your daughter, your lovely fire-bright girl who thrills and confounds you, who spells every swear-word perfectly... well. If you can't do that, then you've failed at the most important task you've ever been given.

When Scott Bean sets up a camp in New Hampshire the Hammond family move there permanently, to live and work, in the hope of building a better life for them all, but particularly for Tilly.

It's strange that if you have a child with a recognisable illness you can talk to anyone about it and generally you'll get a sympathetic response. If you have a child on the autistic spectrum your audience will be limited and many of those will be unsympathetic. You'll be classified as a 'bad parent', unable to exert basic control over a child. It will be your fault. Carolyn Parkhurst captures this perfectly: Alexandra does her best. Iris might be the younger child but she often has to act as the elder and even Tilly wants to fit in, to be accepted. She understands the concept of inappropriate behaviour, but somehow can't put it into practice. There's a wonderful moment when she stops herself from saying something inappropriate and is pleased that she stopped herself. So pleased, in fact that she goes on to explain what she was going to say and why it would have been inappropriate.

If Tilly is a wonderful creation then so is Scott Bean. He seems like the answer to the Hammonds' prayers and even once they are all in residence at Camp Harmony you bridle at the restrictions he imposes but then he explains and you see the logic. It wouldn't have been your way, but you can understand. And sometimes, just often enough, he's proved right. It's just that there's a creeping menace which you can't quite put your finger on, until a catastrophic event changes everything.

I loved this book. I read it over several days, simply because it's a book to savour, to enjoy rather than one to rush to get to the end and find out what happens. The ending is startling and it's only when you've finished the book that you look back and realise how everything was working up to that moment. It's excellent, compelling writing and storytelling at its best.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

If you'd like to know more about autism we can recommend Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter about People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman, which is where I found this wonderful phrase which sums up autism for me:

One way to understand neurodiversity is to think in terms of 'human operating systems' instead of diagnostic labels... Just because a computer is not running Windows doesn't mean that it's broken.

For more fiction which you might enjoy have a look at Arcadia by Lauren Groff.

Booklists.jpg Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2016.
Buy Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst at Amazon.com.


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