Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tuesday's Book Bag: New Releases for 8/2.

Just one new release to share with you this week, but it's an excellent and powerful read. Enjoy!

HarmonyHarmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars

Alexandra Hammond and her family are living in Washington DC, and on the outside, they are a typical modern family. But Alexandra and her husband, Josh, are exhausted and frustrated as parents of two children: eleven-year-old Iris and thirteen-year-old Tilly. Tilly, you see, has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism, and it means that Alexandra's lovely, intelligent daughter, who could read by the age of three, is also prone to violent outbursts where she yells out curse words, has an inability to control many of her thoughts and actions, and truly, just doesn't seem to fit into the mold society wishes to place our children. When yet another school kicks Tilly out, Alexandra and Josh are at a loss. So Alexandra turns to Scott Bean, a self-professed expert with "difficult" children whose seminars and private sessions she's been attending for several years now. Scott is starting Camp Harmony in New Hampshire: an isolated society for families struggling with children like Tilly, free of outside influences, electronics, harmful foods and stimulants, and most of all, free from judgement. So Alexandra and Josh do the unthinkable: they sell everything and pack up the kids and head to New Hampshire, joining Scott and two other families in making Camp Harmony work. But will it work? Can it work?

If you haven't read anything by Carolyn Parkhurst, you're missing out. She's a wonderful author, whose books are simply beautiful. My particular favorite is The Dogs of Babel, a lovely, haunting novel about a woman, her husband, and her dog that I read 10 years ago and still touches me to this day. While I wasn't as affected by this novel, it still has many flashes of the amazing brilliance of Parkhurst and her wonderful way with the written word. Her characters form before you eyes.

In Harmony, Parkhurst does an excellent job conveying Alexandra's fear and anxiety over the frightening aspects of our society and its effects on our children, and how our society has changed, with things like autism and food allergies seemingly becoming more prevalent each year. She doesn't preach, she just paints a picture with her words and Alexandra's thoughts. The book is told between alternating points of view and time periods. We hear from Alexandra in the past, telling the story of Tilly (and Iris) growing up and how things have reached this point and then we hear from Iris, in the present, at Camp Harmony.

Alexandra captures a life and marriage in moments and snapshots, with Parkhurst easily depicting the desperation that parents of children that are different feel. You can sense her terror and why she would actually consider packing up entire family and moving them to an isolated camp in the middle of nowhere, led by a man they really know nothing about.

Iris' perspective, meanwhile, is just beautiful and touching. Parkhurst wonderfully conveys her voice. There were times when I felt Iris was a bit "old" for an eleven-year-old, but I chalked a lot of that up to having a sister such as Tilly and having to grow up rather quickly. And as the book progressed, there were many moments where Iris came across as a scared, naive kid, after all. Iris' depiction of the camp-through her innocent eyes-is perfect, and she has a wonderful way of portraying her sister, where you will grow to love Tilly, as well, and understand Alexandra's fierce desire to protect both her children.

All in all, despite its serious subject matter, the book is often humorous, and I loved its portrayal of real characters and situations, even if they were all gathered in an isolated camp site in New Hampshire. My only real issue with the book was the camp's leader, Scott Bean. To me, he was the least developed character of the bunch, and while you sensed that perhaps we were hurtling toward trouble, the ending seemed a little quick and too pat for such a well-written and developed book.

Still, this book was quite well-done and certainly a must for any parent struggling with a child who feels different, or really, any parent struggling to raise a child in today's modern society. Parkhurst is a wonderful writer, and she will not disappoint with her latest. 3.5+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss - thank you!

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