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Three children in WWII find that a harmonica with an unbelievably beautiful sound literally changes their lives. Friedrich works at a harmonica factory as Hitler is rising to power in Germany. The birthmark on his face and a history of seizures at birth mean that his neighbors see him as “less than” the Aryan ideal. Mike lives in Pennsylvania as the war is breaking out. He and his younger brother are orphans, desperate to stay together. His harmonica just might offer them that chance. Ivy lives in southern California, the daughter of field workers of Mexican heritage in search of a better life. Her harmonica gives her ties to her larger community, even though that community isn’t particularly welcoming to anyone who doesn’t appear to be American by birth.
Told within the bookends of a fairy tale about three sisters lost in time, Echo explores the power of music to unite us and how our differences are cause for celebration rather than exclusion.
First of all, I loved listening to this audiobook. Each part has a different narrator and they each do a fabulous job. What I really loved were the musical numbers by Corky Siegel. If Mike was playing “America the Beautiful” in the text, a harmonica would play the song softly in the background, for example. That kind of thing is distracting if it isn’t done well but the music here enhanced the story exponentially. I can’t recommend the audio version highly enough!
There’s a lot to love in the book itself too. It’s marketed for middle grade or young adult readers but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to adults as well. These children face some really dark challenges. We like to think of childhood as a time of innocence but not all children have that luxury, either because of family circumstances, such as Mike’s family dying, or because of larger cultural norms, as with Friedrich and Ivy. Children facing their own hard times may identify with these characters. The book may remind adult readers that empathy is important and that injustice cannot stand. With Friedrich facing the rise of Nazis and Ivy witnessing the reality of Japanese internment camps in America, readers see exactly what happens when fear of “the other” is not only present but actively encouraged.
I’ve chosen to classify this book as magical realism rather than fantasy. The fairy tale framework is there but it’s only present at the very beginning and end. I don’t want to turn away readers who might not be very interested in fantasy.
While I would recommend this to adults, it’s more than suitable for children aged roughly 10+ as well. I can’t recall any active violence taking place center stage, so to speak. Each child’s story ends on a very suspenseful cliffhanger but Ms. Ryan ties everything up in an epilogue that made my heart happy.
I can’t recommend Echo enough for readers of all ages. The story itself is beautifully written and so important when society seems to grow more divided every day.
If you liked Echo, you might also like my reviews of
- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
- Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham
Buy Echo from Malaprop’s Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC or