I found Echo at the library a couple of months ago. I had not heard anything about the book, but the plot sounded interesting, so I checked it out. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up using one of my Audible credits to purchase the audiobook version. This middle grade novel was written by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Echo begins with a fairy tale: a duplicitous monarch, the midwife following his orders, a witch, three magical little girls, and a little boy lost in the woods.
The bulk of the book is broken up into three sections that take place over a ten-year period in three different parts of the world. At first the stories seem decidedly modern, and not like fairy tales at all. But just like any good fairy tale, there are obstacles to overcome. Friedrich lives in Germany during a time when Hitler is gaining power. He loves music, and hopes to go to the conservatory, but the large birthmark on his face is considered to be a deformity that must be addressed. That, along with his father’s opinions regarding the new regime, is attracting the wrong kind of attention. Can Friedrich summon the courage to face his fears in order to help his father?
In the second segment, Mike is an orphan living in Pennsylvania. His ailing grandmother chose a boys’ home solely because it had a piano, but home is far from idyllic. Separation is a constant threat, and when they are adopted together, Mike remains skeptical that he and his brother could actually happy in their new situation.
In the third segment, Ivy is the daughter of a migrant farm worker in California. She moves with her family to a new home, one that holds the promise of a permanent position for her father. The Lopez family has the opportunity to serve as custodians for a farm that belongs to a family that has been sent to an internment camp. If Mr. Lopez can maintain the farm, he can keep their new home and become the farm’s supervisor. Ivy sees pictures of the Yamamoto family, and cannot reconcile that they could pose such a threat to American security that they must be sent away. Ivy also faces prejudices of her own, and struggles to adjust to her new life.
The most magical element of this book is that all three of these children are connected by the same harmonica, a simple instrument that first appears at the beginning of the book. All three children are musically inclined, and the harmonica helps them cope with the adversity that they encounter. One of the elements I especially enjoyed about the Audible edition is that it includes the musical selections mentioned in the book. As the narrator tells the story, the sound of Brahms’ Lullaby or America the Beautiful can be heard in the background. This embellishment isn’t essential to enjoying the story, but it does enhance the experience greatly.
This was an absolutely amazing book. Each segment is full of rich historical detail, and one will quickly become emotionally attached to the characters. The children are all extremely brave, each in his or her individual way. Their situations are very different, but there are common threads. The children are empathetic, and care deeply for those around them. They face insurmountable problems, and stand up for what they believe.
I would absolutely recommend Echo. This book is best suited for children in elementary school through middle school. In addition to the engrossing story, this book also provides the target audience with insight into the 20th century history, including life in Germany in the 1930s, the Great Depression, life on the Home Front during World War II, and more. This is a book that really ought to become a children’s classic. I know that the story will stay with me for quite awhile, and I can’t wait until my girls are a little older so that I can share it with them!