Harmony – cults, autism and family life in one intriguing novel by Carolyn Parkhurst

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended


When Tilly is kicked out of school and deemed to be on the autistic spectrum, her mother Alexandra is at the end of herself; and hearing of Camp Harmony and it’s engaging pioneer seems to be the answer that she has been looking for. Younger daughter Iris isn’t so sure; and has a distrust of everything that is happening as they move in with other families to start the camp and follow the edicts of the enigmatic leader.

I was really intrigued to read this book. In many ways one knows exactly where it’s going; we’re going to witness the start of some sort of cult, it’s going to be bad, people have been hoodwinked. But it doesn’t matter – I’m still fascinated.

Like my previous review of When the Floods Came, one of the things I enjoyed here was the portrayal of family life. Here the family unit is stressed and strained by Tilly’s behaviour, but is put at risk further by their arrival at the camp, where the leader seems intent on breaking down the family unit and setting children against adults – though subtly enough, obviously, to make it happen. Both Iris and Alexandra narrate different sections of the book, giving us two perspectives into the family that show it’s strengths and weaknesses.

Watching the leader of the camp (I just can’t remember his name… and I’ve leant the book to my friend!) charm and manipulate the people around him is also fascinating. Of course to begin with you can’t be completely certain that he’s up to no good though you have a strong suspicion, but experiencing his effect on people is very interesting. Seeing how the rest of it unfolds is very satisfying too!

Iris, the daughter, was definitely my favourite character here. She’s 11 years old, but has a strong sense of right and wrong, and a quiet determination to stick up for what she thinks is right. In many ways it is she who keeps their family together; the way she loves her Mum despite their terrible decision to come to the camp, her sister despite her strangeness and annoyingness, and her Dad despite his… I can’t remember, but maybe he’s a bit weak.

I can’t rightly comment fully on the portrayal of life with a family member who is on the autistic spectrum as it is not something I have experienced, but it was intriguing to me and opened my eyes to a completely different form of family and of mothering. It gave me added empathy to people who live with the challenge; but also understanding. Tilly is a full character of her own and never diminished; just different.

There are so many elements to what makes this book interesting and great. I’ve leant it to a friend and can’t wait to see what she thinks!

Many thanks to Sceptre and bookbridgr for sending me this beautiful book. It hasn’t affected my review at all.

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