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Literature / Harmony (2016)

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Harmony is a novel by Carolyn Parkhurst. In the summer of 2012, the Hammond family - parents Josh and Alexandra, thirteen-year-old Tilly, and 11-year-old Iris - move from their home in Washington, D.C. to help run Camp Harmony, a commune in the forests of New Hampshire meant as a summer camp for autistic kids, in the hopes of getting help with Tilly's PDD-NOS. The camp is run by Scott Bean, a charismatic guru who believes in living the simple life. The Hammonds hope that getting away from electronics and toxic chemicals will be what Tilly needs, but over time the campers grow suspicious of Scott's cultish ways.

Harmony contains examples of:

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  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The book is set mostly in 2012, with flashbacks from the late 2000s and early 2010s.
  • Car Ride Games: On the way to the camp, Iris and Tilly play That Didn't Hurt, which involves hitting and pinching each other to see who has the higher pain tolerance. Their parents hate the game because it usually ends with someone crying.
  • Character Tics: Tilly taps her cheeks when she's nervous.
  • Cry into Chest: When the girls see the filthy, run-down cabin where they'll have to live, they both start crying. Iris sobs into Alexandra's shoulder.
  • Driven to Suicide: Scott shoots himself in front of all the campers over the destruction of Camp Harmony's reputation.
  • Embarrassing Browser History: Invoked by Tilly. Ms. Frances, one of the guest campers, manages to steal her phone from Scott's office and forgets to lock the drawer when she puts it back. Tilly takes the phone and looks up a bunch of embarrassing porn so Ms. Frances will think Scott did it. This comes back to bite her later - one of the search terms she used was "teen," and Ms. Frances accuses Scott of using her phone to look up underage porn.
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  • Exiled to the Couch: At the special ed school Tilly used to attend, she tries to jump out of a van moving at 55 mph. Alexandra and Josh get into a short, unproductive fight about it before Alexandra storms up to the bedroom while Josh stays in the living room to sleep.
  • Expelled from Every Other School: Tilly has been kicked out of a standard classroom, then the autism classroom, then a private special ed school.
  • Homeschooled Kids: Alexandra briefly homeschooled Tilly after her last expulsion. But on a field trip to Theodore Roosevelt Island, some kids made fun of her while she was photographing the statue, and she got so upset that she ran off the island and almost ran into traffic before she fell and broke her wrist. They give it another try after the failure of Camp Harmony, and this time it goes extremely well.
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  • I Never Got Any Letters: Iris sees one of Candy's letters to her dad in the trash can in Scott's office.
  • Mark of Shame: When Tilly and Iris seriously misbehave, Scott makes them wear signs around their necks describing their offense. Every time a guest camper walks by, they have to read the signs out loud.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The kids come up with ideas for scaring the guest campers by faking monster sightings. Candy wants to keep things vague because she thinks it's scarier if the guest campers only know that there's something in the woods, but the others veto that idea.
  • The Peeping Tom: Ryan admits that he's spied on Iris while she's changing, to her horror.
  • Potty Emergency: Tilly insists on stopping to pee fifteen minutes away from the camp, to the annoyance of Iris, who asks her why she didn't go at the gift shop they just visited.
  • Sensory Overload: As a younger child, Tilly is frightened of the noise in public bathrooms, and the coffee smell inside Starbucks makes her gag.
  • Singing in the Shower: Iris admits to singing songs from High School Musical in the shower and pretending she's one of the characters.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Ryan, an eleven-year-old autistic boy who is obsessed with The Simpsons and has a quote for every conceivable situation.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Iris and Alexandra are the primary narrators, with Iris describing what's happening in the present day at camp in the first person, while Alexandra describes the events leading up to their decision to join the camp in the second person. Tilly occasionally gets a turn, and imagines future history buffs visiting a Hammond family museum and reenacting the events of the book.
  • Tantrum Throwing: When Scott takes Iris into his office to reprimand her for intentionally scaring the guest campers, he gets so mad he throws a stapler at the wall, chipping the paint.

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