Sunny Cooper grew up on a commune in northern New Mexico, and her childhood memories aren't exactly happy ones. Her parents split up, her little sister died in a tragic accident, and there was very little she could call her own. Those experiences have shaped her into a self-protective woman who doesn't attach herself to much, materially or emotionally. When her boyfriend disappears and she begins to learn just how much she didn't know about him, she realizes it might be time to give herself a fresh start - she sells everything, gets on a plane, and ends up on San Miguel Island off the coast of Washington state. She finds herself in the town of Harmony, whose name echoes that of Armonía, the commune, but otherwise is as different as it could be.
If you ever went off on your own with the intent of starting fresh somewhere else, Harmony is the kind of place you'd like to land. It's the proverbial small town with a big heart (except for Sarah Lakes, Sunny's first landlady), and it's hard to keep your walls up against some of the people who call it home. Eventually, Sunny comes to accept a community that's accepted her - and the baby that she's stunned to discover she's expecting.
Sunny's a great character, intimacy issues and all, and Judith Ryan Hendricks effectively shows how both her history and her present shape who she is. Sunny is also shaped by her relationship with food - preparing it, savoring it, and bonding with people over it. The best times in her complicated relationship with her mother are the ones they've spent in kitchens together. I enjoy food writing, and Hendricks effectively incorporates it into Sunny's story.
But I think I wanted more story here. The Laws of Harmony does include many of the elements I like in a novel - an emphasis on relationships, setting as character, a source of mystery and suspense - but I felt that Hendricks made a choice to leave some things at loose ends. On the one hand, I think that makes the book more effective and realistic - how often do things get neatly resolved in our own lives, after all? - but on the other, I think I would have been more satisfied with it if it had been a little neater, and if some of the other characters besides Sunny had been filled in a little bit more.
This is the first of Judith Ryan Hendricks' books that I've read. I'd recommend it to readers who like character-based fiction, and I liked it enough that I would read other novels of here - but I really wanted to love it, and I'm left feeling a bit wistful over the fact that I didn't.