Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

 Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: family, camp, behaviour, menacing, changes

The Nobodies Album was my favourite read of 2010, so I jumped at the chance to receive a proof copy of her new novel from the publishers. The fact Harmony deals with the issues faced by families living with autism only added to the appeal, as I have a son with Asperger’s and like to read as many books on the condition as possible.

Harmony is set in a “family camp” where people are encouraged to live away from the distractions of modern life. In natural woodland surroundings, families work through the behavioural problems that their children are experiencing. The book focuses on Tilly, a thirteen year-old girl with autism, and her family. I particularly liked the way the thoughts of her eleven-year-old sister were included, as it is rare to see the impact that autism has on a sibling so accurately portrayed.

Sometimes, I wish I could be inside her head, just to see what it’s like. But I guess that being inside her head would also mean all the other stuff, like forgetting to eat with a fork sometimes and freaking out when you lose a pen, because maybe you’ll never find it, maybe it’s not under the couch or in some other room that you carried it into when you weren’t paying attention. Maybe nothing is the way it’s supposed to be, and maybe the pen is just freaking gone.

Harmony has a much simpler plot than The Nobodies Album, but it maintains her flair for accurately capturing the emotion and the complexity of thought that people experience throughout their everyday lives. The details of living with an autistic child were brutally honest, but never sensationalist. It is one of the most accurate depictions of autism I’ve seen in fiction (other great ones include Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork).

I also need to point out the amazing epilogue in Harmony. Anyone who has a child who is different from society’s norm needs to read it. It is one of the most beautiful explanations of the beauty present in every child I’ve ever read. I wish it could be reproduced independently, so a greater number of people could read it. I suspect it would go viral.

On top of these realistic descriptions of family life the book also contained darker undercurrents. I won’t spoil the plot by revealing any more, but I loved the unsettling nature of these elements.

Overall I was very impressed by Harmony. It doesn’t quite match The Nobodies Album in depth or cleverness, but it is well worth a read – especially if you have an interest in autism.


4 replies on “Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst”

Long time no see! Hi! I read The Nobodies Album and have very little memory of it, but I do think I want to give Harmony a try anyway. I love anything where people are living in nontraditional settings like this — it’s so fascinatingly different from my own life.

Jenny, Apologies for the absence – I’ve moved house (again!) and so have been without Internet for a few weeks. Hopefully I’ll be back more regularly now 🙂

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