Marshmallow reviews Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

In the past weeks and months, Marshmallow has reviewed several books by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This week she went back and reread the very first book she had read by her, Echo. This book was published in 2015 and won Muñoz Ryan a Newberry Honor in 2016. Marshmallow originally read it for school a couple years ago, and she very much enjoyed revisiting it this week. Below she shares her thoughts on this 600-page page-turner.

(You might also like to check out Marshmallow’s reviews of Esperanza Rising (2000), Paint the Wind (2007), and Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs (2022).)

Marshmallow reviews Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Marshmallow reviews Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books based on historical events or if you have enjoyed reading some of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s other books, then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): “Fifty years before the war to end all wars”, a little boy named Otto goes into the forest to hide while playing hide-and-seek and gets lost. Having recently bought a book and a harmonica from a Gypsy, he gets so intrigued by the story in the book that he does not realize how long he had stayed hidden.

The tale is about three sisters who were raised by a witch. The three sisters were in fact the daughters of a king who desperately wanted a son. Upon their birth, the king ordered the midwife to leave them in a forest. The midwife took pity on the babies and brought them to a witch, who named them Eins, Zwei, and Drei in the order they were brought to her. These girls grew up unaware of their royal origins. Years later, when the king died, his son (the sisters’ brother) learned of them. He and his mother were overwhelmed with happiness and sent the midwife to bring them to the kingdom. The midwife came and told the sisters the good news. However, the witch did not want to lose the girls, who had become useful servants to do all the work. She cursed them, saying that they could never leave the forest unless they saved someone’s life. 

After tripping and hitting his head, the little boy, Otto, wakes up and discovers the sisters in the forest. The sisters, Eins, Zwei, and Drei, help Otto find his way home but ask for a favor. They each take a turn playing the harmonica, and it appears that they store their spirits in the harmonica. He promises to pass on the harmonica when the time is right. 

Seventy years later, Friedrich Schmidt discovers the harmonica in Nazi Germany. Born with an unusual birthmark and a father who dislikes the new regime, Friedrich is not safe. When his father is taken to Dachau, Friedrich’s life turns upside down. 

Years later, in Philadelphia, Mike Flannery is living in The Bishop’s Home for Friendless and Destitute Children. His brother, Frankie, is a fountain of enthusiasm. Mike and Frankie must stick together. When a rich woman named Mrs. Sturbridge adopts them both, it seems like all their dreams have come true. Mike soon gets his hands on a harmonica that has an unusually magical sound (and yes, of course, this is the same one Otto and Friedrich had). However, Mike eventually discovers that Mrs. Sturbridge is planning to “unadopt” them and he must figure out a way for him and Frankie to stay together. 

Much later, Ivy Maria Lopez in California is excited to play a harmonica solo on the radio. The United States just joined World War II, and Ivy’s brother is off fighting in the army. Ivy soon learns that her family is moving again and she won’t be able to perform her solo. Upon moving, she faces segregation. The Hispanic children are put in a different school from everyone else. Prejudice and hate seem to be everywhere during the war. Can Ivy adjust to her new home?

Marshmallow is reading Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Marshmallow is reading Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Marshmallow’s Review: Echo is perhaps my favorite book by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and I really enjoyed (re)reading it. I especially love the end, and I really love how the separate stories are all tied up in the end. All storylines are set in different time periods, with different characters, and different plots, but they are all connected by the harmonica and wrapped together in the end. Some themes that are started in the beginning are repeated in the end, which makes it feel even more like a conclusion. It is impressive that the author could distinguish all the stories and make each a separate line but put them together in a fashion that was not clunky or confusing.

The characters are all unique, and you come to really care about them by the end of the story. They each have strong connections to music which brings them joy and empowers them to face challenges. The tragedies they face and the events that occur are all based on real history. (For example, while writing the book, Pam Muñoz Ryan researched Roberto Alvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District (1931), a desegregation case from California with connections to Ivy’s story. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II also plays a significant role.)

I think another strong point of this book is the fact that it tackles several challenging issues in one place successfully. The author weaves a tale spanning from Nazi Germany to a negligent, abusive orphanage to a war-torn California. The hate, neglect, mistreatment, prejudice, and unfairness the characters face and eventually overcome all make this an even more touching story. 

The only flaw with Echo one may find is the contradictory tones of the different parts of the book. The prologue is a major part of the overall plot but has a more fantasy-like, magical atmosphere. Then the vibe of the book changes significantly. The realistic, down-to-earth, historical fiction aspect of the rest of the story does not really follow naturally from the fantastic, magical, surrealist tones at the beginning.

However, I still loved Echo. I would recommend it to all readers. The writing is not particularly difficult to read but the topics and plot make it intriguing to older readers as well.

In short, Echo is a touching, majestic piece of literature that should hold a place on everyone’s bookshelf and everyone’s heart. 

Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.

Marshmallow rates Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan 100%.
Marshmallow rates Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan 100%.

4 thoughts on “Marshmallow reviews Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan”

  1. 600 pages? Wow, that is one large book.

    I can’t help but wonder, did Otto keep his promise? Were Eins’s, Zwei’s, and Drei’s spirits forever trapped inside the harmonica? If their spirits went into the harmonica, what happened to their physical bodies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great questions. Yes, Otto keeps his promise; that is how the other kids end up getting the harmonica. And the three spirits are freed when the three children are saved.


  2. I wonder how long it takes to finish reading a 600+ pages book?

    My hat is off to Marshmallow and the rest of the BookBunnies for their commitment to read and review all these books for so many years. I hope other people follow your example and determination.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: