Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

“‘Music does not have a race or a disposition!…Every instrument has a voice that contributes. Music is a universal language. A universal religion of sorts…Music surpasses all distinctions between people.'”


Synopsis from GoodreadsLost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, this impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

Feelings: I decided to read this book because it was one of the options for my students to choose from during our WWII themed literature circles. I hadn’t read it before and one of my nervous readers had chosen it. She was a little overwhelmed by the page count, so I wanted to be able to tell her it was easy to read or that she’d love it…the only problem was that I didn’t know if that would be true. So I took the book home the weekend before our lit circles started and dove into it. Oh my gosh. All my expectations were blown far out of the water.

Issues: I didn’t love the whole fairy tale magical element. Honestly, that part could have been taken out and the book would still be beautiful. It felt like there was a little disconnect between that story and the others told throughout the bulk of the book. Obviously, I see the harmonica’s connection and the three sisters appear to one of the characters, but it just felt like a stretch.

Characters: Friedrich’s story was so interesting! What’s unique about this WWII story is that it takes place right when Hitler rose to power. The musical elements added to the magic of the story, and I could see how the harmonica gave Friedrich courage and strength. His whole family dynamic was really educational to me. It got me thinking about Germans during this time period who didn’t support Hitler. I’d never really thought about them before. When the story ended, I turned the page and was shocked. THAT was how his story would end?! No! Then, Mike’s story began.

Mike and Frankie’s story was really moving. These brothers were desperate to stay together, and they were willing to risk everything. Their story reminded me of Annie – the rich adoptive parent and the wide-eyed child wanting to be loved, wanting to be wanted. It felt like everything was leading up to his audition, then all of a sudden we flew through it. It made me reconsider what exactly we were building to, which I guess was him finding out where he belonged. Just as the conflict was at its peak, it was over. WHAT?! Ugh…again with the lack of resolution.

Enter Ivy’s story. Honestly, at first I was a little bored. Then the story became more and more complex, filled with cultural tensions and stereotypes and I was hooked. I love how the author included this story because I feel like when we talk about WWII, we only talk about the Holocaust. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t, but we have to remember the Japanese internment camps, as well. They deserve to be remembered. Ivy will be the character I remember from this book above all the others – her determination, her courage, her openness. Then once again…we’re at the point of highest interest and we’re dropped.

Feelings, Part 2: THAT ENDING. The way that the author weaved these stories together was so beautifully done. All of my questions were answered and we finally figure out what happened after those 3 cliff-hangers.

The main element of this book is music. The inclusion of songs at the beginning of each part and the way those songs are woven into the story was so unique. There were so many quotes from this book that I wrote down, highlighted, and copied/pasted into my brain regarding music and the way it intertwines with ours souls and our emotions. The author truly understands the power of music and it comes through on every page.

Genre: This book is part fantasy, part historical fiction…so I’d maybe put this into a genre of magical realism. The book begins with a fairy tale of sorts, introducing us to the harmonica and the courage and life it provides the characters later on.

Final thoughts: While the print version is wonderful, I’d also highly recommend the audio book. There’s so much discussion of music throughout and the audio version actually has music playing whenever it’s written about. This added a new dimension to the author’s storytelling. Do yourself a favor and read this book. Don’t even read the back cover because the book is way better than you think it’s going to be. Trust me on this one.

Pick this up if you liked:

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Goodreads rating: 4.31/5 rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn


4 thoughts on “Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

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