12 Aug / Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
For the most magnificent experience, choose to go aural with a pitch-perfect quartet to narrate the four distinct stories that make up this stupendous new novel from award-winning Pam Muñoz Ryan. Then – in another reason to visit your local library often – make sure to at least hold the book and ogle the gorgeous pages, especially the beginning and end. The fairy-tale opening and close are framed in reverse black-and-white – that is, dark pages printed with white type, bordered with curling branches of many leaves.
The intricate, multi-layered set-up is thus: A boy named Otto reads a magical story – drawn to it by a shared name – titled The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger, about three nameless sisters who have dutifully served a mean grumpy witch all their lives. That extraordinary harmonica plays through three additional stories that follow: about musically-gifted Friedrich who must save his father from Nazi brutality; about Mike who will do anything to keep his younger brother out of the orphanage; and about Ivy whose family is entrusted with a Japanese American family’s farm when they are sent to a prison camp during World War II. Each of the children’s lives will be forever changed by that legendary instrument; each will be brought together to make beautiful music and finish a tale begun in a faraway forest long, long ago.
As if an unconscious nod to girl power, Ivy commands the most multi-faceted narrative. In spite of her American birth, her Mexican American family must suffer through a separate-but-definitely-not-equal education system in southern California. Ivy personally faces moral ambiguity and patriotic questioning resulting from overwhelming racism and war hysteria all around – but her open mind and open heart make her that much wiser than many of the adults who should know better.
Ryan’s intertwined composition – weaving fantasy, history, serendipity – is already a melodious gift on the page, but is made most memorable stuck in the ears. The audible version is further enhanced with resonating musical embellishments throughout. Indeed, merging text with tunes undoubtedly results in a harmonic convergence worthy of a standing ovation.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult