Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. March 2015. 9780439874021. Gr. 5-8
I was not sure what to expect when I started reading Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I didn’t know anything about the book before I started reading. I picked it up on the strength of the author’s name. I have loved several of Pam Munoz Ryan’s books, especially Becoming Naomi Leon. However, this book isn’t quite the Pam Munoz Ryan book I was used to.
Echo begins like a fairy tale with a magical harmonica and a curse at the center of the story. From there the fairy tale fades away to a new setting: Germany in 1933. Friedrich and his father are in a difficult position as anti-Jewish sentiment rises while their family’s Jewish sympathies views are common knowledge.
Friedrich is a remarkable boy. Instead of going to school he is “the youngest and smallest apprentice in the biggest harmonica factory in the world.” His father had taken him out of school at the age of eight after an incident with some bullies. They call him “Monster Boy” because of his birthmark and throw rocks at him when they see him “waving to the sky.” But Friedrich can’t seem to help himself. He hears music in his head, and he just wants to conduct his imaginary orchestra. As tensions in the community increase, Friedrich and his father are feeling even more unsafe.
Just after the situation comes to a head, the story shifts to another time and another song. In the end there are three stories: Friedrich in 1933 Germany, Mike in 1935 Pennsylvania, and Ivy in 1942 California. In each story, the child is in a difficult place and time, but their own resourcefulness and resiliency pulls them through. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy each come into contact with a very unusual harmonica.
The three stories converge in the end, and the book closes with the fairy tale from the beginning. I was surprised at how invested I was in each story and in each of the characters. Pam Munoz Ryan proves herself a wonderful storyteller in this exceptional book. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction and music lovers in particular.