Saturday, January 24, 2015

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

EchoMusic, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone 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. 

Middle grade books are tricky to write. The author has to balance between being overly adult-like in tone and being too cutesy for its intended audience. This book began with promise in that respect, but lost its way somewhere close to the end. 

The best part about this novel is the beginning story, with Friedrich in Germany as the Nazis are taking over. This section is balanced perfectly, bringing serious mentions of the Nazi movement while still managing to keep it at middle grade levels. The pacing was wonderful and it never got overly sweet. The second part, with Mike and his brother, was not as well done, with many eye-rollingly saccharine moments that would make any middle grader gag. Maybe it is the subject matter, two orphans trying to get adopted, but it was just too “precious”. The same thing happens with the third part of the novel, although at least this one has some interesting commentary on the way immigrants were and still are treated in the United States. 

The writer obviously knows what she is doing, I just wish that she would have left some of the Hallmark moments out of the novel. That would have made this book memorable and perhaps an instant classic.

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