Welcome to Harmony, by Jodi Thomas

22 Jul

Welcome to Harmony, by Jodi Thomas

Between having a couple of older books by Ms Thomas in the scarily huge TBR mountain range and seeing this novel mentioned often around the blogosphere, I couldn’t help but pick it up when I saw it at my local grocery store. I am glad I did.

Ms Thomas’ writing voice is both soothing and engaging; so much so that it took me a good hundred and fifty pages to wonder whether Welcome to Harmony was a romance. It so happens it is not—classified as mainstream fiction in Ms Thomas’ own website and with the word “novel” in the spine, the novel focuses mainly on Reagan’s growth during the first few months of her stay in Harmony, though not as exclusively as the blurb may make you believe:

A place to belong

Sixteen-year-old runaway Reagan has always wanted a place to belong. She’s never had a real home of her own, but maybe she can borrow someone else’s. At least for a little while…

At the nursing home where Reagan works, Miss Beverly Truman’s fond memories of Harmony, Texas, seem to fill an empty space inside the girl. After Miss Beverly passes away, Reagan travels to Harmony, pretending to be the woman’s granddaughter, and is taken into the home of Beverly’s surviving brother.

Still, Reagan is afraid to trust the gruff kindness shown to her by Jeremiah Truman and the warm friendship offered by another teenager named Noah, who dreams of being a rodeo star. She keeps her distance from Noah’s sister, Alex McAllen, who’s the town sheriff and busy with her own stormy relationship with volunteer fire chief Hank Matheson.

But when prairie fires threaten Harmony, Reagan learns the true meaning of family, friends, and home…

The novel starts as Reagan, having hitchhiked her way from Oklahoma, arrives in town. Inspired by the fond memories of a now dead old woman, she has decided that this little town in the middle of nowhere will be the starting point to the rest of her life.

Reagan, being a newcomer, is the perfect vehicle to introduce the reader to the town and its residents It is through her eyes that we meet many of the other characters whose lives and relationships make the fabric of the story, starting with the three ‘founding families’ of Harmony: the Trumans, the McAllens and the Mathesons—and their long standing feuds.

There are a number of threads weaving around each other throughout the novel. We have the difficulties between Alex McAllen and Hank Matheson mentioned in the blurb. Then there’s old Jeremiah Truman and his (mostly antagonistic) relationships with different town residents. Hank’s mother and sisters, his two elderly aunts, and most especially his niece, the very lovely and lovingly drawn Saralynn. Tyler Wright, director and owner of the funeral home, and his mysterious email correspondent.

There is a thin thread of suspense tied to the fires that have been happening around town (thin because I guessed the identity of the culprit pretty quickly), but the novel is about people and their relationships, about how lives intersect every day, about the impact—large or small—any little action can have in someone else’s life.

Some of the characters are a little too recognizable, such as the cranky old man who, in reality, is only lonely, or the runaway who wishes she could be a hard case when, in fact, she’s also just lonely and scared, but Ms Thomas manages to make them unique and thus more real.

While writing this review, I grabbed the book again—as I always do, to make sure I’m spelling characters’ names correctly, etc.—and found myself starting to read it again, even though I certainly didn’t mean to (I am reading something else already, thank you very much!). I guess that will tell you how eminently readable Ms Thomas’ writing is.

Welcome to Harmony gets an 8.25 out of 10—and the other couple of novels by Ms Thomas in my ever-growing, humongous TBR mountain range will get a second, more thorough look soon.

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