Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Released February 24, 2015.
A stellar intertwined story that swirls around a magical harmonica, this book is one-of-a-kind in the best possible way. When Otto meets the three girls in the forest, he sent on a quest that includes a harmonica that sings in different tones from normal ones. Later, three young people encounter that harmonic and it changes their lives at critical points, bringing both peace and music into the darkness they are living in. There is Friedrich, a boy in Nazi Germany, who is struggling to hold his family together. There is Mike in Pennsylvania, placed in an orphanage when his grandmother can no longer care for him and his younger brother, desperate to find a place they can be together. Finally, there is Ivy in California, excluded from the normal public school because she is Mexican-American and hoping that this last move is one that gets her family a permanent home. The stories speak to the heart, each child facing the difficulties with immense courage and love for others.
This book is a delight to read. It marries the magic of the harmonica with more realistic historical fiction components very successfully. Ryan explores some of the darkest times for families, put under excruciating pressure by the society they are living in. She always offers hope though, allowing the harmonica and the power of music to pierce through and give light to the circumstances. Beautifully, each story ends in a crescendo, leaving the reader breathless and worried about what will happen before starting the next story. In the end, the stories weave together musical and luminous.
Ryan successfully creates four unique stories in this book and then brings them all together in a way that is part magic and entirely satisfying. She writes of the cares of each child with such empathy, allowing readers to feel the pressure they are under. Here is how she describes Mike’s responsibility for his younger brother on page 204:
That responsibility had become another layer of skin. Just when he thought he might shed a little, or breathe easy, or even laugh out loud, it tightened over him.
She successfully does this with each of the stories, allowing readers to feel that tightening and the threat of well-being for all of the characters. There is no shrinking from the racism and bigotry that these characters experience. It is presented powerfully and appropriately for the younger audience.
A powerful book, this novel is pitch perfect and simply exceptional. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.