September 02, 2010

In Which I Appear To Champion Organised Crime... (Review: Restoring Harmony; J. Anthony)

Restoring Harmony
Joelle Anthony
Putnam Juvenile 2010

The year is 2041, and sixteen-year-old Molly McClure has lived a relatively quiet life on an isolated farming island in Canada, but when her family fears the worst may have happened to her grandparents in the US, Molly must brave the dangerous, chaotic world left after global economic collapse. Molly is relieved to find her grandparents alive in their Portland suburb, but they’re financially ruined and practically starving. What should’ve been a quick trip turns into a full-fledged rescue mission. 
(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I'm sure that you've all seen the advice under film ratings (either in the cinema or on the back of DVD boxes) that warn you about what you might see in what you're about to watch, yes? Well, you know the one that says “may contain scenes of mild peril”? That pretty much sums up Restoring Harmony. Set in 2041, Restoring Harmony presents the reader with a possible, but not massively frightening vision of the future. While different to your average dystopia as seen in the YA world, this is by no means a bad thing.

Our protagonist is Molly, a fiddle-playing, farm-living Canadian, dispatched by her family to find her Grandparents, who live in Oregon, USA. The family believes that her grandmother may be dead and also desperately need her grandfather to aide their island with his doctoring skills. Molly gainfully sets off, fiddle in hand, on a difficult journey to Oregon where she finds her grandparents alive and kicking, if slightly the worse for wear. She also picks up a handsome stranger along the way who becomes a useful contact in her temporary new home.

As far as characters go, Molly is nice enough – in fact she's very sweet, very focused and very earnest. I watched a documentary on Amish teenagers recently, and for some reason I kept thinking about them when reading Molly. She doesn't ever seem to get particularly angry or stressed and is pretty calm and practical regardless of the situation. In fact, I at times found her to be annoyingly chipper and her fiddle playing drove me to distraction – I am all for music as a tool for stress-relief and healing but it didn't work for me in this instance. While I understand that Molly has only ever known life as it stands in 2041, I don't believe that she (after a sheltered life on an island) would have handled herself quite so confidently when faced with strangers, thieves and organised crime. She never becomes unlikeable, though, and its hard not to get behind someone who is so damn try-hard. Handsome stranger, Spill, is a far more interesting character at once helpful and sinister and his story is one that I would have liked to have seen explored more fully. Molly's grandparents are well written, with her grandfather in particular illustrating the conflict between old life and new.

The story line itself trundles along fairly gently – it was easy to see where the book was heading, and there were no surprises along the away although that is not to say that it is badly written. The central premise is that at some point in the not so distant past, the world has finally used up all its oil leading to a massive Collapse. Although it is never elaborated on (Molly doesn't seem to find it particularly interesting and makes several references to not paying attention at school), I assumed that the Collapse referred to the economy rather than society as a whole. The US government still exists but only in name (due to lack of funds) and the country is being run by organised crime network, the Organisation. The Organisation is by far the strongest aspect of this book and the author has skilfully managed to paint these gangsters (for want of a better word) as three-dimensional characters rather than black and white villains. While they are undoubtedly corrupt, often thuggish and certainly cruel they are also fair and sometimes even kind, in their way. They also provide a framework of rules for a society that has no real governing system any more. I understand that I sound like I'm cheer leading for the mob here, but the Organisation and its minions are written in such nuanced shades of grey that they really gave me pause for thought.

Overall, Restoring Harmony is an enjoyable way to pass an afternoon and I found myself genuinely moved towards the end – the family moments in this book providing far more pathos than the folk lyrics sandwiched in here and there. If you are expecting gritty, dystopian fiction then don't hold your breath but for a lighter – and far more realistic vision – of what could easily be our future then this is an interesting read. It is easy to imagine hugely apocalyptic visions of the years to come but I suspect that Joelle Anthony and her quiet storytelling may be far closer to the actual mark.

Thanks to UK Book Tours for organising this touring copy of Restoring Harmony.


Becky said...

Great review. I didn't find the fiddle-playing annoying but otherwise I completely agree. There is something about this book that almost made me yearn for a return to land way of life.

Clover said...

Sounds interesting. I didn't realise it was set n Oregon. I'd read it just for that as I am hopelessly homesick for Oregon. But I'd read it for its gentleness in telling a dystopic story as well. Thank you for the great review"!

Lauren said...

I was really interested to hear what you thought of this, and I love how balanced and thoughtful your review is.

This is a favourite of mine, and I think it's that more gentle, less sensationalist quality that I really love about it. While I adore being terrified by nightmare visions of the future as much as the next dystopia addict, sometimes I appreciate being told that everything will be okay. :D

I think I saw the same tv show you did about the group of Amish teenagers in Britain, and the comparison with Molly works for me too!