prev 4 of 10 next
Pam Muñoz Ryan
ISBN 9780439874021
Scholastic, 2015.
5 stars
Keywords: adolf-hitler echo family friendship internment-camps orphans pam-ryan racism world-war-ii

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

In this remarkable novel, Pam Muñoz Ryan (The Dreamer; Esperanza Rising) braids together three stories in which an unusual harmonica plays a part. She begins with a fairy tale and a prophecy: "Your fate is not yet sealed./ Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,/ a bell will chime, a path will be revealed."

Readers will move swiftly through the novel's nearly 600 pages to find out how the prophecy comes to pass. The surprising twists and turns ratchet up the suspense within the individual stories and in how the author will ultimately bring them together. The first tale takes readers to 1933 Germany. Friedrich Schmidt, a 12-year-old with a wine-stain birthmark on his face that pegs him as an imperfection on Hitler's superior race, possesses a gift for conducting music that only he hears. Next, two brothers in an orphanage in 1935 Philadelphia insist upon leaving together or not at all. When Mrs. Sturbridge attempts to undo their adoption, Mike Flannery says if she'll keep his younger brother, he'll depart with a traveling harmonica troupe. Lastly, in 1942 California, Ivy Maria Lopez's father gets a job tending the land of an interned Japanese-American family, and readers learn along with Ivy about their white neighbors' racist treatment of Mexican-Americans.

Ryan gives readers room to piece together the parallels and contrasts between the societies central to these three stories. Her fairy-tale frame tacitly lets readers believe they will survive--despite the cliffhangers--until the author completes her extraordinary epic tale.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
Join Newsletter