Thursday, June 4, 2015

Audiobook review: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Unabridged audiobook on one self-contained MP-3 player. 10 hours, 37 minutes. Narrated by Mark Bramhall, David deVries, MacCleod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler. Go-Reader/ Scholastic Inc., April, 2015. 9781936129423. (Audio Purchased. Hardcover courtesy of Scholastic.)

Echo is an epic tale. It starts as a story-within-a-story, then braids three additional stories before coming full circle. It is just lovely. 

Otto gets lost in the woods near his home in Germany at an unspecified time. He was playing hide and seek. So determined was he to win the game that he went deeper into the woods than was prudent. While waiting, for the call to come home free, he pulls out the book that he bought from a gypsy caravan and gets lost in the story of three hidden princesses and a curse. Once he emerges from the tale, he finds himself well and truly lost. He panics and hits his head. The three princesses from the story rescue him. They beg him to tell them the ending of their story. Alas, there is no ending - just blank pages. So they send him on his way with a harmonica unusual for its sound and the request to pass it on to one who is in need.

In 1933 Nazi Germany, Friedrich has facial birthmark that has made him the target of bullies his whole life. Now, he faces being stamped as an undesirable by the Nazis and sent to an asylum. It doesn't help that his father is an outspoken critic of the regime. He finds solace playing his harmonica, among other instruments but it is conducting that is his passion.

Later, in America, Mike and Frankie, two orphan brothers, vow to stay together no matter what when they realize that the nefarious director of the orphanage plans on illegally hiring Mike out and sending Frankie to a state home. Their musical talent draws the attention of a visiting lawyer but something about the adoption doesn't sit well with Mike.

Still later, the harmonica travels across the USA to California, where Ivy learns to play it thanks to her favorite teacher. She is eagerly looking forward to playing a recital on the radio. Instead, she finds herself moving yet again with her Mexican-American parents to find farm work.

Each tale gently draws the reader into the sad worlds of Friedrich, Mike, Frankie and Ivy. Each tale ends with an infuriating cliff-hanger. There are plenty of tears along the way. Ryan has created memorable characters that the reader quickly grows to care about. All the pieces fit together in a wholly satisfying ending. I sat in that blissful daze that comes when one is totally immersed in a story. Gosh, I wish I could bottle that. I read a lot. I like a lot of what I read but it is the rare book that sends me. This one did. 

Between it's length and the complexity of the writing, I know I will have to hand sell this gem one reader at a time. Just the other day, I showed it to one of my vociferous (but picky) and brilliant readers. She backed away from me when I said it was historical fiction. She shook her head when I told her it was written like a fairy tale (which she loves). My shoulders slumped in defeat and I acquiesced; but when I hugged the book into my chest and sighed that, "It is such a beautiful story!," it was her turn to acquiesce. I'm eager to hear what she thinks.

I'm also eager to reread it with my eyes just to enjoy the gorgeous writing and strong sense of setting. When reading with my eyes, I have the luxury of stopping, rolling the phrase around, rereading the last paragraph just to savor the writing. Not so with listening. I'm usually driving or choring as I read with my ears and never have a notebook nearby to jot thoughts down. 

Just today, a sixth grader came in wanting a "hard book on a playaway." I handed her Echo.

I thought the multiple narrators and the addition of the music that each character played in the story enhanced the story. I was familiar with all of the songs already, so I would have had context were I reading with my eyes. I wonder if young readers will seek out recordings of unfamiliar pieces. Perhaps I will make a playlist bookmark to leave in the book. 

The Newbery buzz that's been generated seconds after the 2015 Newbery was announced in January is so well-deserved. Echo is distinguished. Echo will stay with every reader.

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