Echo begins with Otto, three sisters, a harmonica, and a mysterious forest. It travels forward with Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania and Ivy in California. At first, their stories seem only marginally related, but by the time they all connect at the end, their love of music has carried each of them through a pivotal, challenging moment into a future full of hope. In return, without even knowing it, they change the course of a fable.
It seems pretty simple when put that way, right? Pam Muñoz Ryan, who also wrote Esperanza Rising and The Dreamer, creates wonderful characters here. You think and hope for them. You worry about what will happen to them. You feel their fear, shame, and resistance to a world that doesn’t respect them. There is some action, but the power of their individual stories is more emotional and transformational than just surviving an exciting escape, especially when entwined with the other characters. You don’t start reading the book thinking about how their actions might change things for others, but by the end, it’s clear to you, the reader, even if the characters themselves don’t know it.
What a beautiful book! Although it’s close to 600 pages long, it’s actually a pretty fast read, and with its generous treatment of those who didn’t fit in to what societies once deemed “normal,” it could provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss challenges still faced today.