Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Scholastic Press:
New York, 2015; $19.99
Pam Muñoz Ryan’s book, Echo, weaves together three compelling stories, all centering on a single harmonica and its owners around the time of World War II. The book is long, almost 600 pages, but I enjoyed every second of it.
The book presents, in chronological order, three main characters: Friedrich Schmidt, Mike Flannery, and Ivy Maria Lopez. Each story is told with extreme finesse, leaving the ending of each story until the book’s conclusion. A total of three brilliant cliffhangers left me wanting desperately to know more, until the new story swept me up, leaving the old one almost forgotten.
Friedrich lives in Germany, where he and his father work in a harmonica factory. When Friedrich’s family opposes the Nazis, they have to escape the country to save their lives. Mike and his brother, Frankie, are orphans, and their worst fear is being separated. When the brothers are adopted, it seems like a miracle, until they find out that their new parent doesn’t even want them there. Ivy and her family are constantly searching California for a real home and a permanent job for Papa. When an opportunity on a farm finally comes, Ivy hopes their new house will help keep their family together.
Mike and Frankie’s story was my personal favorite. The brothers were realistic, lovable characters, with flaws as well as virtues. As an older sibling, I can say that their relationship was also realistic. Mike and Frankie had arguments and fights, but there was never any doubt that they cared for each other. I identify with Ivy the most, but not only because she is a girl. She values friendship, has to overcome stereotypes, and loves music. Friedrich was also an interesting character, although his story was the least original. Personally, I think the subject of Nazi Germany is overdone in children’s books, but I was able to forgive the plot because of Friedrich himself. Friedrich was born with a giant birthmark on one side of his face and has always been pitied and teased because of it. He dreams of being a conductor, and his love of music is supported by his father, who plays cello. Friedrich’s narrative was honest and refreshing, and I enjoyed it as much as the rest of the book.
All of the characters in this book are drawn together by a single instrument. Friedrich finds the harmonica in the factory where he works, it is a present to Mike, and Ivy receives it from her teacher. However, the harmonica was not the only thing these characters had in common. Each of them lost a home, and each of them struggles to find their new place in the world. And, while their journeys were not easy, each of them finds a place where they belong.
I believe that music has the power to bring people together, cutting through age, race, and culture. I play flute, and I have always thought that many instruments working together to create music with different layers is a beautiful thing. In fact, this book reminds me of a piece of music; many stories interweaving, coming together in one wonderful, musical book.