Review by Kelly Carey
For adults who loved All the Light We Cannot See, here is a middle grade novel for the young reader that similarly embraces the universality of the tiny threads that bind all of humanity together. This 2016 Newbery Honor novel blends a mystical fairy tale, complete with kings, queens, evil witches, spells and curses with the grounding historical reality of Nazi Germany, the Great Depression and the treatment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. On the surface, Ryan uses music, and specifically harmonica music, to connect the stories. But, on completion of this amazingly crafted novel, readers will find a linkage that goes beyond music, time and place.
Echo reels readers in with an opening story filled with enchantment and make-believe. The opening story is left incomplete as Echo introduces three separate tales told through the eyes of three young protagonists. As each protagonist faces their own daunting challenges, the history around their lives becomes relatable and personal. Friedrich is caught in Nazi Germany just before World War II. Mike struggles during the Great Depression, and Ivy’s story plays out after Pearl Harbor. For young readers who devoured the Magic Tree House series, and are ready to jump up a level, Echo is the natural next step in historical fiction for children.
Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo proves that a single story can jump genres and be more successful for the leap. Her novel is equal parts fairy tale and historical fiction. The combination has an amazingly readable effect.
While the history is there, Pam Munoz Ryan uses poetic, yet solid and simple characters, to show rather than tell the history. As a result, readers become entranced with each character. You will cheer for them and weep for them because they are complete in their humanity, in their flaws, in their hopes and in their struggles. Ryan’s characterization is so full that you know things about her main characters without her ever even telling you. Here is an author who didn’t just create characters, she created souls.
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