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HARMONY by Carolyn Parkhurst

9780399562600The EDIWTB online book club is back!

This month’s book club choice was Harmony, by Carolyn Parkhurst, which comes out today. Harmony is about the Hammond family, parents Alexandra and Josh and daughters Tilly and Iris, who live in Washington, DC. Tilly is on the autism spectrum with a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified). She has been asked to leave her school because the administrators say she is too disruptive and that they cannot help her anymore. Alexandra, at the end of her rope after homeschooling and seeing little improvement in Tilly’s behavior, turns to the guidance of a parenting consultant named Scott Bean. After months of private sessions with Scott, Alexandra persuades Josh to move the family full-time to a compound in New Hampshire, where Scott is creating a camp for families with children who have developmental disorders.

Harmony is told in alternating vantage points and through flashbacks. Iris, Tilly and Alexandra share the narration, and the setting switches back and forth between the summer of 2012 in New Hampshire to earlier years in D.C.

Camp Harmony, premised on the notion that kids need an environmental detox in order to address their developmental issues, is governed by Scott’s many rules. No cell phones. No processed foods. Adults must turn over the keys to their cars. Families who live at Camp Harmony full time handle the cooking and cleaning. As the book progresses, Scott’s rules become more arbitrary and his calm veneer less smooth. Is he who he says he is? What are his motives? The book reaches a climax when the Hammonds are forced to confront the truth about Scott and come to terms with why they are in New Hampshire and whether it is helping.

Harmony is, at its core, about the helplessness and desperation of parenthood, the innate desire to do whatever it takes to cure your children of their ills. I spent a lot of the book wondering whether I could see myself in Alexandra and Josh’s shoes, selling my house and most of my belongings and putting my trust in another person to do what was right for my family. Parkhurst did a good job of building her case here. She chronicles Alexandra’s increasing despair, her willingness to try anything, as remedies and therapies and curriculae fail Tilly, one after another. She also allows Josh and Alexandra some skepticism and rebelliousness at Camp Harmony to show that they are more than just blind adherents to Scott’s will. She makes Scott reasonable and compelling enough that his brand and ideology seem credible. And then she shifts the narration to Iris so that the the reader can see what’s really going on.

I really liked Harmony. There are some plot holes, and the ending was a little abrupt and unrealistic, but I thought Parkhurst did an excellent job of exploring the challenges of parenting a child on the spectrum. (I also loved all the D.C references.) Harmony was a fast-paced read, yet it is full of details that make you feel like you’re right there at the camp with the Hammonds.

I am a big Parkhurst fan, and this one didn’t disappoint.

OK, EDIWTB book club, what did you think?

 

Winners of THE LAWS OF HARMONY and Reviews of TOO TALL ALICE and BARON THINKS DOGS ARE PEOPLE TOO

First, congratulations to the winners of copies of The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks! They are… Kathy, Alicia, Kelly C., LindseyatAKindredSpirit'sThoughts and Bridget. I will be in touch with you for your contact information. Thanks for entering!!!

Second, here are some reviews of kids' books that I received last week.

Worton The first is Too Tall Alice by Barbara Worton. This is a cute book about an 8-year old who is four inches taller than every other girl in her class. She is very self-conscious about her size, until she has a dream that she goes to a house where every girl is much taller than she is. The tall girls are all happy with their height and have realized their dreams of being whatever they want to be. The book veers off into a little bit of New Agey-ness at this point, with some language that my four year-olds didn't understand (and I didn't love), but the final message is clear: our physical differences make us who we are as individuals and shouldn't hold us back from accomplishing whatever we want to do. This is a nice message, especially for girls, who tend to be self-conscious about how they look. My daughters liked this book, though I suspect it will resonate even more when they get older. The drawings are cute and there are some clever references throughout.  

Baron_book_cover_1 The second book is Baron Thinks Dogs Are People Too! by Laurie Dean. It's about a playful puppy who does what puppies do - sitting on couches, running around the house, and generally causing havoc. He runs into the street at one point, and is sent to puppy school. What he wants most is a best friend, which he finds in a young boy who is lonely and looking for a playmate. I thought this book was fine – not great. There isn't much plot (which certainly didn't bother my four year-olds) and the drawings seemed a little cartoonish to me. But my girls enjoyed the book, particularly the part where the dog goes off to puppy training school. This is a cute book for a family of animal lovers, or one that is contemplating getting a puppy.

Giveaway: THE LAWS OF HARMONY by Judith Ryan Hendricks

I recently received a review copy of The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks, due out next week from HarperCollins. From the back cover:

Hendricls Sunny Cooper has been running since she was eighteen—from the New Mexican commune where she grew up . . . and from the haunting memory of the freak accident that took the life of her younger sister. Now, at thirty-two, Sunny voices radio spots in Albuquerque while struggling to hold on to a floundering relationship. But when a second tragic accident—and the devastating truths that come to light in its aftermath—turns her world upside down, Sunny runs again.

In the town of Harmony on San Miguel Island, she takes a new job, learns to ride a motorcycle, and makes some surprising new friends. But the past is never far behind. A startling discovery—along with an emotional and revelatory reunion with her estranged mother—is forcing Sunny to step out from the shadows of yesterday to embrace an uncertain future.

Confessions of a Real Librarian "seriously had trouble putting this down." Here's her full review.

The Laws of Harmony is so new that there aren't many reviews out there yet. BUT… if you want to read it, I have 5 copies to give away, thanks to HarperCollins.  Leave me a comment here with your name and email address and I will do a random drawing on Friday February 6.

Good luck!

THE DOGS OF BABEL by Carolyn Parkhurst

[Warning: second book in a row about death and grieving. Sigh.]

It’s always interesting to pick up a Carolyn Parkhurst book, because you never know what you’re going to get. Whether it’s a fictionalized account of an Amazing Race-like reality show, a novelist re-writing her endings, or a rural compound for families of autistic kids, you’re in for a quirky but interesting ride. The Dogs of Babel, which I believe is Parkhurst’s first novel (it came out in 2004) is about Paul, a man whose wife Lexy is found mysteriously dead in their backyard after falling out of a tree. There were no witnesses other than their dog, Lorelei. With no explanation for why his wife would have been climbing in their tree, Paul, desperate for answers, decides to train his dog to talk so that he can get an answer from her.

Much of The Dogs of Babel is told through flashbacks as we learn about Paul and Lexy’s relationship. Paul is a straight arrow, while Lexy is artistic and impulsive and prone to violent outbursts and mood swings. But we grow to understand why he loved her and what a void she has left in his life. As the complexities of their relationship are slowly revealed, the answer to the question of what happened to Lexy becomes less murky.

So the talking dog part of the book sounds weird, but Paul is a linguist, so his interest in interspecies communication isn’t that strange. He grows interested – warily – in a fringe movement to get dogs to talk. The leader is in prison for maiming and torturing dogs – that part is awful – and Paul knows that the remaining men in the group are cruel and disturbed. But he’s so desperate to get Lorelei to talk that his judgment gets clouded and he interacts with them a little, but with tragic consequences.

Ultimately this is a story about grief, not unlike the last book I reviewed, Goodbye For Now by Laurie Frankel. What lengths might we go to to soothe the pain of loss? At what price? The Dogs of Babel wasn’t my favorite Carolyn Parkhurst but I still liked it and was eager to learn what happened. She’s a very good writer and I’ll probably read anything she puts out. I’ve heard her speak a few times (she’s local) and I am definitely a fan.

I am in the home stretch! The Dogs of Babel was book #49 for the year. I am closing in on my goal of 52, with 12 more days of the year to go. I’m halfway through one on audio, 1/4 through another in print, and that just leaves one more to finish by the 31st. I think I can, I think I can…

 

 

Pre-Vacation Post

I am finally going on vacation this week, which I am really looking forward to. 8 days in Italy, with hopefully enough downtime to read some books.

Here is what I am bringing with me to read.

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A few other things to share:

  1. My friend Nicole Bonia of Linus’s Blanket and I have started a podcast for Readerly magazine. Here is the first episode. It’s not on iTunes yet, but I will share the link when it’s up. For now, you can listen at the Readerly site. We talk about what we’re reading, what’s coming out soon, and what you might have missed this summer. Give it a listen! We’re recording another show today.
  2. I went to a reading by Carolyn Parkhurst on Saturday at Politics and Prose, where she talked about Harmony, the book we just read for the EDIWTB online book club. Here is some of what I learned in her Q&A:
    • Parkhurst has a son on the autism spectrum. She made Tilly a girl so that there would be differences between her son and Tilly.
    • Pop culture informs her writing a lot.
    • She told Alexandra’s perspective in the second person so that the reader could be closer to her and understand what is going on in her head She wanted those chapters to feel more intimate, so that the reader would viscerally feel the chaos in her life.
    • Harmony was the most difficult book she has written and took the longest to write, in part because it was the most personal. She worried whether it was OK to be writing about her kids.
    • She is still not sure whether she got Tilly’s voice right. Her son’s mind is incredible, unlike anyone’s she has ever met. She wanted Tilly to be unique too and had to create that voice for her.
    • Scott was the hardest character to write. He says the right things and makes sense on the surface. He is not based on anyone she knows, though she spent a lot of time thinking about cults when she wrote him.
    • She has ideas for her next book but is not writing anything right now.
  3. I also enjoyed this Wall Street Journal post about Parkhurst’s son reading Harmony.

I’ll be offline for the next two weeks or so but hope to have a few reviews to post when I get back! Happy August, everyone.

Return of the Online Book Club!

I am excited to announce that the EDIWTB Online Book Club is back!

Here’s how the online book club works. I choose a book, and EDIWTB readers who are interested in participating sign up by sending me their name, email address and home address. Participants receive a copy of the book in the mail, courtesy of the publisher. About a month later, on a pre-selected date, I post a review of the book here, and then the book club discussion takes in the comments section of the blog.

It’s a lot of fun, and all you have to do is be one of the first 15 to sign up.

The book is Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst, and we’ll be discussing it on August 2, 2016. I picked Harmony because I really enjoyed two of Parkhurst’s prior novels – Lost and Found and The Nobodies Album. Her books are so different – from each other and from most novels that I read. Here’s what Harmony is about:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly “normal” family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a “family camp” in New Hampshire–a life-changing experience that alters them forever.

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally–a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly–whose condition is deemed undiagnosable–is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book’s Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable.

If you’d like to participate in the book club, send me an email at gayle@everydayiwritethebookblog.com with the following:

name

email address

home address

I will let you know if you’re one of the first 15 to sign up. Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing the books!

BEA 2016 Wrapup

Life has gotten busy the last few weeks, but I was able to spend 36 hours in Chicago last week for BEA 2016. The annual publishing industry conference has been in New York for the last several years, but they decided to move it to Chicago this year to make it easier for booksellers located outside of NY to attend. As a result, there were fewer people, fewer parties, and fewer books at the show, but it was still a good time.

I missed the first half-day, but landed early on Thursday and made it to the conference center before the floor opened. I spent most of Thursday and Friday running around picking up galleys, getting autographs, attending sessions, and generally obsessing over books. Nicole of Readerly and I made a spreadsheet beforehand of the books we wanted and the times they were coming out, so we were pretty organized and got almost all of the books on our list, thanks to some teamwork and coordination.

We also went to a Sourcebooks party at the top of the John Hancock building on Thursday night. The views were unbelievable.

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Here’s my haul.

Adult books:

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Middle grade books:

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I also got new books for my almost 4-year old son from his favorite authors – Carson Ellis, David Shannon and Rosemary Wells. He was very happy when I brought them home for him.

I am most excited about Carolyn Parkhurst’s Harmony, Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, Noah Hawley’s Before The Fall, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and Uaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. (But they all look pretty good.)

All in all, I thought that the quality of the books coming out this fall was very high. Lots of highly anticipated titles from big names as well as debut authors. There wasn’t as much wattage at the show in terms of celebrities, but the books look great. And that’s what we were there for!

So that’s where I’ve been. Over the next few days I have a middle grade book to review, a Curtis Sittenfeld Q&A to post, and hopefully a book (The Heart) to finish.