Echo / by Pam Munoz Ryan. 4.27.2016

Scholastic Press ISBN 9780439874021

HS Grades 8-12 Rating: 5

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan begins with a fairy tale and ends with a fairy tale–and in between are three interweaving stories filled with historical details. The stories are set during the mid-20th century and revolve around three main characters: Friedrich in Nazi Germany, who desires to become a conductor and, because of a disfiguring facial birthmark, is threatened by a Nazi law requiring sterilization of those with deformities; Mike, an orphaned boy during the Great Depression who fears being separated from his younger brother and loves playing the piano; and Ivy in California, a young Mexican-American girl whose family’s fortune changes after a Japanese family is sent to an internment camp. The three stories all revolve around a magical harmonica. Ryan’s masterful tale, told from the perspective of the daughter of a Mexican migrant worker, brings careful research, emotional impact, and development of character to entice the reader. Its length at 592 pages may be off-putting to some youth, but the font is large with generous spacing between words and, when laughter and tears are experienced, the story will come together.

The unifying fairy-tale theme lets both history speak and contemporary social issues be probed. One can easily describe the story as fantasy, fairy tale, historical fiction, or multicultural story, blurring the lines between genres and literary forms. But magic prevails in the power of music in a beautifully written work. Through the harmonious use of music and lyrical language, Ryan weaves together a tale rich in family bonding, bravery, racial tolerance, and kindness to all. Each of the three protagonists face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, and holding a family together.

Winner of a 2016 Newbery Honor and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature (2015), Echo presents three compelling stories about inspiring beauty in a world seemingly overrun with fear and intolerance. This is a book well worth the time to read.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ