HARMONY: A NOVEL by Carolyn Parkhurst left me with a chilling spine tickle. It’s the story of a suburban family with two tween daughters. Tilly, the older one, has a brilliant mind and close to zero social intelligence. Her sister Iris loves her and is both embarrassed by her behavior and baffled by her need to protect and explain. Chapters are narrated by Iris and their mother Alexandra whose frustration grows day by day. There is a lot of love in this book and a lot of patience. Father Josh has a calming influence, when alarming situations occur. No extreme Tilly behavior such as licking the floor in a restaurant or shouting out obscene words in public dims the love surrounding this family.
As options diminish and frustrations increase, Alexandra meets Scott who offers hope. After a few therapy sessions, Scott asks the family to trade in their current life and move to a rural farm in Maine where he is starting Harmony, a camp for families with special children like their Tilly. The family takes on the role of staff and serves as examples for the visiting families at the camp.
As they settle in, there are puzzling signs that Scott may be moving toward a kind of cult leader. He separates families and preempts their usual methods of dealing with each of their “special” children. Each time there are explanations which reassure the group. Things gradually become more troubling with strange games, punishments and Scott’s unpredictable anger.
Parkhurst frames the story with a prologue of what might have been a very different story and an epilogue that is deeply poignant. In between, this is a page turner that informs while it touches the heart.