Carolyn Parkhurt’s Harmony focuses on the Hammond family, both during and in the lead up to their new life as part of Camp Harmony. Established by Scott Bean, Camp Harmony is a place where families with difficult children can go to learn ways in which they can make their lives a little easier. The Hammonds, whose eldest daughter Tilly is on the autism spectrum, have agreed to play a central part in setting up and running the camp, leaving their city-dwelling life behind. Iris, Tilly’s younger sister and the novel’s main protagonist, is not always particularly pleased by the family’s decision.
It doesn’t take too long for readers to see that the Hammond’s should have listened to their daughter’s concerns. Scott’s initial charm soon wears thin. The mask slips and it becomes a case of when and how things will go wrong, rather than if they will. Switching time frames from chapter to chapter, we see the difficulties at the camp emerging at the same pace as we see how the family came to be there in the first place. While we begin to question the wisdom of choosing to go and live in the woods with a man they barely knew, we also begin to see how desperate they were for things to change. Tilly is an absolutely magnificent character, but Parkhurst paints a perfect picture of just how hard life with an autistic child can be – no matter how magnificent they are at times.
And it’s this juxtaposition, this weighing up of the family’s options and decisions, that actually becomes the central theme of the novel. While at first it may seem that the main narrative drive will be discovering just how messed up Scott really is, Parkhurst instead puts in the centre of this family and asks us just what we might have done differently. She makes us ask questions about empathy, compassion, love, risk, and blame, and shows how they are all intricately linked. And she does this so well that when the ‘Scott’ side of the story ends less intriguingly than we might have been expecting, it doesn’t really matter at all.
Any Cop?: This is a novel so readable you could finish it in one sitting. Great characters, riveting storytelling, humour, suspense, and a good helping of social commentary. For a novel in which some might say very little happened, it is extremely hard to take your eyes from the page. Parkhurst also adds layer upon layer to her story, making a potentially average tale into something much more special. Highly recommended.