Sunday, March 22, 2015

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan is three books in one, linked together by a mysterious harmonica.

Friedrich is a musical boy in 1933 Germany, where political tensions run high. His outspoken father, recently retired from the Hohner harmonica factory where Friedrich and his uncle Gunter still work, opposes Hitler and his ideas about racial purity -- but Friedrich's older sister Elisabeth has just started getting involved with the League of German Girls. When Friedrich, who was born with a port wine stain covering half of his face, is in danger from the new regime and his father is in danger for speaking out against it, what will become of Friedrich and his family?

Mike is a scrappy orphan in 1935 Philadelphia. Above all else, he wants to stay together with his younger brother Frankie, but it's rare for two orphans to be placed together from their orphanage. When, against the odds, the two brothers are placed with a wealthy lady, Mike knows it's too good to be true. The lady wanted a girl, not two boys. Mike knows that Frankie, with his winning personality, can charm their new guardian -- and perhaps he can find his own place in the world, maybe even in Hoxie's Philadelphia Harmonica Band. Is there any way that the brothers can stay together, or will Mike have to sacrifice to give Frankie his best chance?

Ivy is a migrant worker's daughter in 1942 California. Her father has just gotten a good job managing a farm for a Japanese resident who has been relocated to a internment camp, and Ivy is crushed because that will mean moving away from her favorite teacher and her best friend, just days before she was to have a solo in her class harmonica concert on the radio. In her new home, Ivy is dismayed to discover that the school system is segregated and Mexican students are bused to a separate elementary school. In facing this injustice in her life, she also reflects on the greater injustice faced by Japanese residents like the Yamamoto family who own the farm where her father now works. But when Ivy and her mother go to the Yamamoto house to check for rodents or any other damage, Ivy finds a mysterious locked door at the back of a closet. What secrets have the house's owners hidden away? Are they really enemies of America, as some of the neighbors believe?

This is a hefty chunk of a book, since it is really three books in one, tied together with a fairy-tale-like frame story and a unique harmonica that makes its way into the hands of each of the three children in turn. However, I found it a fast, well-paced read with interesting characters and a gripping plot. The dialogue is a little teach-y in spots, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book. I liked how the author tied the events of each story together at the end of the book. In my opinion, the frame story was the weakest bit of the book, but perhaps that was just because I was expecting historical fiction and the fantasy element seemed slightly out of place. Nevertheless, this is a good book that will be enjoyed by both young readers and adults.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

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