“…here, everyone was focused on becoming one voice. They all spoke the same language and had found their way to this night with their own stories of determination and practice and their love for music.”
“Echo” has been buzzing around my Twitter feed for quite some time now. When I saw a copy in the Scholastic Reading Club last month, buying the book was an easy decision to make! I really hadn’t heard much about the book itself, other than it was a fantastic read. When I opened the box and pulled out the book, I have to admit that I was a little intimidated. You see, “Echo” is 580 pages thick. But worth every one.
Not only can Pam Muñoz Ryan write one amazing story, but FOUR. And they’re all inside one book. I thoroughly enjoyed each tale and, because I was so eager to see how all the stories intertwined, I had to remind myself to slow down! Each story could easily stand alone, but together, they make something truly magical.
“Echo” shares the stories of Friedrich, brothers Mike and Frankie, and Ivy. These are sandwiched by the tale of a boy named Otto, who encounters three mystical sisters in the forest during a game of hide-and-seek. Otto’s life is forever changed by these sisters and the mysterious harmonica they bestow upon him.
This powerful harmonica travels the world, further impacting the lives of each person it reaches. First, the harmonica falls into the hands of Friedrich during the perilous era of Nazi Germany. Friedrich works at a harmonica factory and has dreams of becoming an orchestra conductor. When the Nazis discover his unsightly facial birthmark, they threaten to take him into custody. Friedrich, his father, and his uncle make plans to escape, but those plans are wrecked when Friedrich’s father is arrested and sent to a work prison in Dachau. Not to be discouraged, the boy decides to make the long train ride to rescue his father. But before the train even leaves the station, Friedrich is seized by two guards who recognize his birthmark.
Next, we find the harmonica in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mike has a knack for playing the harmonica, and he and his brother, Frankie, often play duets on the piano in the orphanage where they live. When the boys are finally adopted, they’re rescued from poor treatment and even poorer living conditions. But when they get to their new home, they learn that they’re not wanted by the lady of the house. They try using music as a way to win her heart, but it seems to be frozen solid. After Mike stumbles across documents releasing Eunice from her adoption contract, he tells Frankie that they need to make a break for it. Late at night, they climb down the tree outside their bedroom window. Everything seems to be going smoothly until Mike falls from the tree. Laying helpless on the ground, Mike realizes he can neither breathe nor move.
Finally, Ivy comes into possession of the harmonica. Her brother has gone off to war and she has just moved to a new home in California. Here, people with differences are not tolerated, and Ivy has to go to a school separate from caucasian students. Though her parents try to fight this silly rule, they refuse to let her attend the “regular” school. Music becomes her way of getting around the regulation, and she joins the orchestra at the caucasian school. One day, as she’s playing outdoors with a friend, Ivy sees a bike messenger pass by. Ivy panics when she learns that this is the same bike messenger that delivers news about soldiers who have passed away overseas. She chases after the boy to find out whether or not her brother is still safe.
In the conclusion of the book, we discover how each of these three stories connects. Somehow, the harmonica has brought them all together and has fulfilled its purpose. The endings of each individual story is explained, then masterfully woven together into one satisfying grand finale. “Echo” is a book not to be missed.
Music is such an important theme in “Echo”. Like stories, music is timeless, and crosses boundaries between faiths and ethnicities. I thought it was very appropriate how Pam Muñoz Ryan took three separate stories, each their own melody, and blended them together to make one beautiful song.
Though young readers may at first be intimidated by the thickness of the book, if they’re willing to give it a chance, they will be hooked right away. I think readers will especially enjoy the mystery of how the three different storylines come together in the end.
Publish Date: February 24, 2015
You might also enjoy: “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead
My recommended age range: 5th-7th