Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

“Everybody has a heart. Sometimes you gotta work hard to find it.”

What’s the Story?



Lost and alone in the woods, Otto meets three mysterious sisters. What follows is a decades-long quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a magical harmonica. 



Years later, Jewish Friedrich must save his father in Nazi Germany, orphan Mike does everything he can to keep from being separated from his brother in the Pennsylvania foster system, and immigrant Ivy is trying to hold her family together in post-Pearl Harbor California.



Each, in turn, stumbles across the same harmonica. Eventually, pulled by this common thread, their solo stories converge at Echo’s climactic conclusion.

Why is it Great?

What if music was a kind of magic?



Echo brings us the answer. 



At nearly 600 pages, Echo is a big book. But it’s more like three novels in a single binding. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy each have their own stories but by the end they are all tied together. 



Echo isn’t just a fantasy. Nor is it merely historical fiction. This story is an historical fairytale. It’s a duet of both genres, playing to the strengths of each. 



Friedrich, Mike, Ivy, and all the supporting cast feel like more than just characters in a story. They’re based on the real people who’ve suffered and loved and lived on the same dirt under our own feet. These characters come with an authenticity that makes them feel truly alive. We get a glimpse into what life was really like as a Jew in Nazi Germany or as an immigrant in WWII America. 



So with all of that, why does Echo need three sisters in the forest, prophecy, or anything else fairy? 



Well, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales don’t tell children dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”



We’re not usually allowed to believe in magic. Adults know this all too well. But there are some places where the drab, adult world’s jurisdiction can’t reach us. When we’re between the covers of a book we’re in international waters. Here, we’re allowed to believe in dragons and fairies, or even magical harmonicas—for a little while, at least.



If we can set our skepticism aside for a moment and believe in the magic of fairy—if we can entertain music as a kind of miracle, for example—then it becomes easier to believe in the truly fantastic: miracles like love and justice and honor. 



Fairytales exist to remind us not only that beauty, goodness, and truth exist but that they are miracles. They are real-world magic, they are powerful, and with them we can slay the dragons of our world.



It turns out, we don’t have to wonder if Echo’s music is magical; all music is.

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