On an off-the-grid farm, a teenager finds a new home, family, and something far more sinister.
When 19-year-old Berie decides to run away instead of going to college, she meets Bay, a mysterious, scarred stranger who offers to bring her to his home: a farm in the North Carolina mountains. Bay lives there with his community—the Ash Family—under the guidance of Dice, their charismatic, larger-than-life leader. The Ash Family lives off the land, without possessions, and in the so-called “real world.” Bay tells Berie she can stay for three days or the rest of her life—a refrain that echoes throughout the book. Renamed Harmony, Berie sheds her “fake world” name and begins to assimilate into the group. She learns (sometimes painfully) how to care for animals, milk and herd sheep, make cheese, and other tasks needed in the real world. Life on the farm is not all singing, flower crowns, and environmental concern, though. There are also locked doors, secrets, and physical violence. Harmony struggles with her lust for Bay, her desire for material things, and fake world thoughts that threaten her life on the farm. When Harmony befriends Queen, a curious, tattooed former addict, she begins to see how she could be led astray. At times the narration becomes clunky. Despite not being told fully in flashback, there are multiple allusions to Harmony’s future knowledge. These interjections undercut the tension Dektar has been building throughout the novel. Regardless, Dektar is clearly a talented writer; it’s most apparent in her descriptions of nature and farm minutiae: “I woke to find every needle of pine jacketed by a low frozen cloud, sparkling with rime,” and “heavy happiness came down and trapped us in its wax.” The novel also shines in its thoughtful portrayal of cult members’ (likely) complicated feelings: devotion, love, fear, desperation, and purpose.
An affecting, cleareyed debut.