Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Author is not a powerful enough word to describe Pam Muñoz Ryan. Master Storyteller, Literary Sorceress, or Word Mage would be more appropriate. Echo is not just a book- it is an epic work of genius.
Historical Fiction and Faerie-Tale blend together in this gorgeous story of how one harmonica transforms and connects the lives of its owners.
Once upon a time, in a world that is somewhere else, a wicked king decides that his wife's first child must be male, to secure the lineage to the throne. When she gives birth to a girl, the king tells her the child died at birth. Three times this happens until, finally, her 4th pregnancy produces a boy.
The Queen's midwife has been ordered to discard the female newborns in the forest to be devoured by animals but, being a kind soul, she cannot. Instead, she asks a nearby witch to raise the girls as her own.
The girls grow to be hard working, kind, and very musically talented. In time, the witch grows very possessive of the girls, treating them as slaves, and eventually enchanting them to never be able to leave her.
However, every evil spell has a counterspell!
If the three hidden princesses could find a way to save the lives of others through their music, they could be freed from the wicked spell. But...how can they do this when they can never leave?
When a lost German boy named Otto, accidentally stumbles into their bewitched prison with a harmonica, the girls realize exactly how to send their musical spirit out into the world.
The harmonica begins its journey in Germany, right as Hitler comes to power. The insane prejudices of the Nazi party condemn anyone with what could be considered a "defect" and also place strict rules upon art and music. Friedrich, a German boy with a wine-stain birthmark on half of his face, falls under Nazi scrutiny along with his outspoken father. Their family is in danger of being separated and mistreated by the Nazis. To survive, they must devise a desperate and dangerous plan. The harmonica gives Friedrich courage in the face of a world gone mad.
The harmonica then finds its way to depression-era America- Pennsylvania, to be precise. There it falls into the hands of Mike Flannery, a recent orphan. Mike and his brother Frankie have been brought to a orphanage by their dying grandmother, who had been raising them since their parents died. She chooses this orphanage because it has a piano, and music is central to their family. She tells the boys that the right person will come along for them. Someone does come along, but her motives are questionable, and the boys aren't sure if life will be better or worse. They too, have to come up with a plan to secure their future. The harmonica may just provide their only way out of a desperate situation.
Fast-forward to WWII and the harmonica is now in California. Ivy Lopez, a 5th grade Mexican-American girl, has been given the harmonica by her teacher, and falls in love with the music. With her brother serving in the Army, and her family running the farm of a Japanese family who has been forced into an internment camp, the harmonica brings her hope in a time of racism and fear. Eventually, the harmonica does far more than that.
In the end, all the lives that the harmonica has touched, are united in some way. Their fates are interwoven. Can all of the hope and salvation brought about by the harmonica be a strong enough magic to free the three imprisoned sisters? Can the Echo of their musical spirit save them? Will the harmonica complete its final task- to save a life?
The audio-book version of Echo is stunning. Each song is performed by a professional musician, bringing strong emotion to the narrative. Each child's story (Otto, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy) is read by a different actor in the accent appropriate to the child's voice. The reading is emotive and captivating.
Echo can be enjoyed by readers of any age. However, it is probably best for strong readers who do not tire easily when reading long books. This is a perfect recommendation for a strong reader ages 11 and up.