Carolyn Parkhurst’s novel, Harmony, digs into the dynamics of a family with Tilly, a young teen on the autism spectrum (see the book for more on the tricky terminology of a diagnosis) and Iris, a child who is neurotypical (NT). The difference between the children comes out in the mother’s perspective as she struggles to feel adequate in her role and in the relationship of the two sisters.
At a standstill with few options left, the family opts in to work at a “family camp” for children with processing disorders, compulsions, and other neurological challenges. When the judgement of the director of the camp is called into question, the family’s future becomes even more unsure.
This novel is told in three perspectives, and in three different ways. Iris, the NT daughter, tells the major plotline in first person, while we get the mother’s backstory perspective from the second person (a choice that makes you feel intimately involved in each up and down in the household). Finally, Tilly’s perspective is a catalog of thoughts which adds mystery and tension as the plot builds.
I loved this book. I connected to every voice in this novel and some points became so tense that I felt myself wanting to step away and not, all at the same time. As far as a portrayal for NT and autistic characters in the novel, the word I would use is “nuanced.” As with any book in which characters have a diagnosis, I look that the characters aren’t just that diagnosis, and that is a trap that Parkhurst does not fall into here.
My favorite parts of the novel were the mother’s ruminations and memories, as well as her relationship with the husband. I was so keenly invested in their relationship that I forgot it wasn’t the primary plot at points.
Release in hardcover: August 2, 2016
Thank you to Penguin/Random House for a copy of the ARC from BEA, which I received in exchange for my honest review.