Ryan, P. M. (2015, April). Echo [Audiobook]. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc. Available from www.audible.com.
Narrated by: Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Andrews MacLeod and Rebecca Soler
Ryan’s Echo weaves a thread between the lives of four main protagonists through their shared passion for music and talents with a very special harmonica. Otto’s story starts the reader off with the introduction of the harmonica and its relevance to the three princesses who are trying to find their way back home. Then we are introduced to Friedrich who faces many struggles in Nazi-occupied Germany and uses music as a form of escape. The next story covers Mike who is searching for a new home after his last remaining mature relative has passed, and then we are left with Ivy who desires to find a permanent settlement so she can make friends and join the orchestra.
APPROPRIATE TARGET AUDIENCE:
School Library Journal recommends Ryan’s novel for grades 5 through 8, while Scholastic recommends the book for grades 3 and up. The stories within are engaging and relatively easy reads, but I would suggest that it would need to be a very mature third grader to listen to/read and truly appreciate Ryan’s genius in parallel plot structure and converging of stories in the denouement.
Suspense: The story is set up with four parallel stories that are unlikely connected by a harmonica and passion for music. The way that Ryan essentially cuts off each story right at the climax, moving on to the next until the resolution of the novel creates a high level of suspense for the listener/reader in wanting to know what happens to each of the characters.
Musical Accompaniment: The story revolved around the shared use of this uncharacteristically glorious harmonica that each character had the pleasure of acquiring at a time where he or she needed it the most. The story is as much about the fate of the characters as it is about the passion behind the music, and this is heard through the accompaniment of the orchestra in the audiobook.
Narrators: The parallel plot structures in the novel are wonderfully narrated in the audio version! Friedrich’s accent and accepting heart, Mike’s worrisome selflessness and Ivy’s passionate innocence are all portrayed through the voices of their narrators and lead to a deeper connection by the listener.
Abrupt Changes in Storyline: I put this is both strengths and weaknesses, because for me as the listener, it really threw me off each time it happened. With Friedrich, he had apparently just been captured by the Nazis; Mike had just fallen out of a tree while trying to run away to avoid being separated from his brother; Ivy pulls up to her house to find a messenger of death parked outside. Ryan builds up so much of the character development with these three that it was literally all I could do to not yell at my speakers each time the story VERY ABRUPTLY switches to the next. Sadly enough, it took me to Ivy’s story to realize what she was doing, and it took a few chapters in to the final part of the novel to realize how they were going to all come together!
Length: As an avid reader, I am able to get through most novels fairly quickly; however, the audiobook versions are a different story. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE audiobooks and listen to them all the time as an escape from whatever is going on, whether while in the shower, driving (no worries…I haven’t wrecked because of them!) or cleaning; however, despite the excellent narration, this one frustrated me a bit with how long it was at just over TEN HOURS!
In the classroom:
Character Development Sketches: The three main characters of Friedrich, Mike and Ivy are so well developed up until their climaxes that it would be a great way to discuss character development for each character, create literal sketches of the characters based on this development, as well as have students create their own suspense-filled stories with well-developed characters whose stories cut off at the climax, leaving the reader begging for more!
Cross-Curricular Study: This book touches on various curriculums, including a religious study of the Jewish experience, a musical study on classical artists and composers, historical aspects of World War II and themes such as prejudice and racism, loss and suffering, as well as coming-of-age. It is such an interesting novel that could be read by a middle grade class and discussed/used in all of these classes in various ways, creating excellent research topics, seminars and discussions and much more!
Out of the classroom:
Summer Listening Institute: To encourage young readers to stay engaged and learning throughout the summer months, public libraries could use this audiobook in excellent ways because of the wonderful narration and parallel structure of the novel. This could create a four week course study where children (of all ages even) come in and listen to a part of the audiobook (since it is broken up into four major parts). Since each part (except for the resolution) ends at the climax of one of the main character’s stories, children would be enticed to come back each week. You could also tie in all kinds of crafts or musical activities to keep children engaged.
- 2016 Newberry Honor Book
- New York Times Best Seller and Notable Book
- Publishers Weekly Best Book
- ILA Notable Book for a Global Society
- ALA Notable Children’s Book
- Audiofile Magazine Best Audiobook of 2015
- School Library Journal Best Audiobook of 2015
- 2016 Odyssey Honor Audiobook
IF YOU LIKE ECHO, YOU WILL ALSO ENJOY:
- Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is another great example of character development and parallel plot structures converging at the stories end that is wonderful for a younger audience! In this novel, there is this same idea of a magical thread that ties each of the characters together, and the story is gripping in a fantastical way.
- Ryan’s Esperanza Rising is a tale of a young girl who is forced from her privileged life in Mexico and rushed to work on a farm in the United States during the Great Depression. The time frame and themes of loss, self-discovery and endurance of family resonate in both of Ryan’s novels, Echo and Esperanza Rising. If you enjoyed Ryan’s writing style in Echo, you will equally enjoy this award-winning novel, as well!
- Lauren Wolk’s heavily award-winning novel Wolf Hollow is another excellent example of children overcoming hardship, standing up for others and growing up in the process. The book has been heavily praised and has even been compared to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockinbird. This instant classic is an excellent choice for younger and older readers alike who want to get lost in a tangled world of prejudice and loss where the denouement is masterfully done.