Review: Harmony House by Nic Sheff

Posted March 17, 2016 by Lisa Mandina in / 14 Comments

First, thanks to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for allowing me to read an egalley of this title.  I was definitely interested in seeing how a fiction book by the author, who is most well-known for his book about growing up and using drugs, Tweak, would do.  This one sounded good, as I  love a good scary story.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed. 

The main character is a girl named Jen.  She and her father have moved away from their home to fix up and run an inn in an old house called Harmony House.  Jen doesn’t have a good family life.  Her mother died recently.  Her mother had been an alcoholic, but hiding something possibly.  Jen is not happy to be in this small town away from her friends.  And due to what happened with her mother’s death, her father is going to home school her.  Of course right away weird things happen.  Within the house, as well as seeing shadows moving in the trees.  Her dad has become ultra religious and is very strict with her. Even grounding her the first day there when he sees a tank top in her suitcase, a piece of clothing he forbids her to wear. But she sneaks out anyway, wanting to get into town and away from the strange house.  She meets a nice woman at a diner, and her niece, and has found her first friend, she hopes.  They plan a sleepover at the creepy house for a night later on.  On Jen’s way home, she runs into some guys, and one of them decides to walk her home. But once they get there, she tries to tell him that he can’t come up to the house, her father would kill her and him. But he doesn’t want to take no for an answer. She is rescued by another guy, the shadow she’d seen in the woods earlier. 

The longer she’s in the house, the more strange things happen.  Her dad gets even more into his religious behavior, and it even gets to be really strange behavior.  Now, when the girls come over for a sleepover, things get dangerous.  The guy from town also doesn’t want to leave her alone.  Jen isn’t sure what is happening, but the nice lady she met in town feels like there may be something more to Jen, something that maybe her mother had as well.  And all is tied in to earlier years in the house.  The first family that lived there had a daughter who committed suicide.  Later it was a convent where the nuns took care of unwed mothers.  Supposedly burying all the babies somewhere on the grounds.  The ghosts of these past residents seem to be coming back.  By the end Jen will find connections between her family in different ways, as well as have to figure out just what is going on with herself. 

Now, while this wasn’t the worst story, it had potential to be so much better.  My first complaint would be all the drugs that Jen was taking.  Honestly it seemed like there were no repercussions, no effects from the drugs at all.  I don’t know if the author meant that maybe this is why Jen saw things and thought maybe she had powers, maybe it was all because of the drugs?  I just feel like for as much as it was in there, it needed more explanation.  Otherwise it was just as if it was no big deal for the character to be taking all these drugs.  I don’t like that personally.  Drug use like that is often a reason I will put a book down and not finish it.  There needs to be a reason for it to be in the story.  Yes, I get that the author probably was just going based on his own experiences in life, but for a YA book like this, one not about drug use, but supposedly a horror story, there really needs to be more of a reason for the drugs.  Again, that is my opinion. 

I also mentioned there was lots of potential.  The back story in the prologue was really good, I could have seen some really creepy bits from that, but they didn’t seem to make it into the story.  There were flashbacks to when the nuns were there, and while those were really intense and disturbing, I feel there could have been so much more done to fit that into the scary part of the story. 

All in all it was a quick, easy read, with lots of potential, but it fell way short of where it could have gone, and weighed too heavily on scenes with the main character taking drugs, that seemed in no way to really affect the story.

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14 responses to “Review: Harmony House by Nic Sheff

  1. I have been curious about this one. I may hold off on it awhile and then grab it if I ever see it at my library. Thanks for the great review.

  2. This one has been on my watch list because of the cover and the fact there's a creepy house but now I'm not so sure. There does seem to be a lot of creepy atmosphere but there also seems to be a lot left unexplained. I'm also not a big fan of the drug use – especially in a YA book. I'm guessing this was recreational and not prescription? I'm not naive to think that no teenagers do drugs but I'm also not a fan of a form of entertainment normalizing it without showing that there are very real consequences. Great review!

    • The drugs were ones she'd gotten from a friend's house. All different sorts of prescription drugs. No really rhyme or reason to taking them. As a YA book, if it's not part of the actual story, it seems like a thing I don't want to read about. Like you I'm not naive that no teens are doing drugs, I just don't feel like it was needed in the story without some kind of consequence.

    • I kind of wondered about if there might be something to do with drugs because of who the author was, but it just didn't have any reason to be in the story.

  3. Aw, bummer! I do like a good spooky/scary story, so I'm sorry to hear this one just didn't really live up to its potential. I haven't read anything by this author, but I know WHO he is, so yeah, the fact that Jen took so many drugs and it was never really touched on as to why and if that was the reason she's seeing things, etc. would kind of bother me too.


    • It just wasn't really spooky except for one or two bits, and honestly the drug part just bugged me so much that I had trouble really getting into it more than that. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. That sucks! It is really tough when you find a great idea book without a good follow through. I think it is really hard to write those reviews. You did a great job with this one. Great review!

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