Echo, Reviewed by Lin Lynn Tao, 13

Book Reviews  /   /  By Sarah Ainsworth
Stone Soup Magazine
September 2018

Does music connect people like nothing else can? Pam Ryan’s book, Echo, shows the bonds tied together by a single instrument. In Echo, a harmonica journeys around the world, through countries and decades into the lives of three children. The harmonica aids each child in their battles, providing strength through the joys of music.

For the first child, Friedrich, music makes him brave throughout his life’s misfortunes. Friedrich’s scarred face and flourishing hands earns him the nickname Monster Boy. However, he demonstrates true courage in character by ignoring the people trying to crush his spirit. He dreams of auditioning at the conservatory and becoming a famous conductor. On page 58, “Friedrich lifted an imaginary baton with his good arm and conducted… he too might have floated away on the wind, like a dandelion’s white-seeded parachutes.” Friedrich takes solace in music, finding it a comfort from the harsh treatment he receives at the hands of boys and officials alike.

The second child, Michael, would do anything to protect his brother, and music helps him reach this goal. Each night, his worries for Frankie would envelop him “like an extra layer of skin.” At the orphanage, it is their talents in music that opens the door for their “adoption” by rich Mrs. Sturbridge. Mike’s hopes plummet after he learns that she adopts him and his brother for her own benefit and doesn’t plan on letting them stay. To secure a safe home for his younger brother, Mike bravely strike a deal with Mrs. Sturbridge. As he talks to her, “his breath shortened, but he patted his shirt pocket and felt a pulse of reassurance from the harmonica.” (p319). The harmonica helps him channel his love for Frankie from his heart to Mrs. Sturbridge’s, moving her deeply. Later, the love for music bonded Mike with Mrs. Sturbridge, and eventually ties them together as a family. This proves music helps Mike find and fight for the opportunities offered in life.

The third child, Ivy, stands up to racism in several forms, and her love of music plays a crucial part. In Orange County of 1942, racism is worse than the other parts of the country. Latino children are forced to attend a separate school from the white children. Japanese children are “‘.. misplaced… their humiliation had to be ten times — a hundred times — worse.'” (p461) Ivy whole-heartedly agrees with her teacher Mr. Daniels that “music brings brightness to a dark world” (p466). Her teacher’s appraise to her music “fueled her optimism” (p470) and her courage. Ivy “closed her eyes, riding the notes until she was inside the song” (p530). Even when discrimination against Japanese people rages on, Ivy believes that the Yamamotos are good people. Music plays a primary role in persuading Ivy to be determined about fighting for the right thing. Music also teaches Ivy to be compassionate about other people’s feelings.

The power of music helps people all around the world fight their battles, strengthening their spirits and giving them hope. Echo shows a few precise examples of the comfort music provides; Friedrich, facing prison yet seeking solace in Tchaikovsky’s no.1 opera, Michael, reassured by the harmonica in his pocket when making deals with Mrs. Sturbridge, and Ivy, recalling uplifting war ballads when facing racism. Intertwined by their love for music, the solos of these three children come together in harmony. There is nothing and no one who can stop music. Music overcomes time and people. Its power has no limits.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Scholastic, 2015. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

Have you read this book? Or do you plan on reading it? Let us know in the comments below!

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