Derek Moser: Juvenile fiction book big in size and impact – Joplin Globe

Some books are big. A book with many pages may have this stigma attached to it, as could a book that is bound in a particularly large cover. Working in a library, I hear many people comment on the “bigness” of a book, as in: “Wow! That’s a huge book!” 

Recently, a book crossed my path that not only falls under the umbrella of big because of its size and length but also because of another factor: its impact. The juvenile fiction novel “ECHO” by PAM MUNOZ RYAN certainly does well to meet the latter criterion.

“Echo” has a form and style that is unique and inviting. The author does well to keep her audience captivated from start to finish. She does this by engaging the reader with a large story arc that is connected by various smaller stories. 

The book begins with a tale of discovery as a boy named Otto uncovers a story and a harmonica in a forest. Otto then comes face to face with that story as he becomes lost in the forest, only to encounter a trio of protagonists who mystically appear — three sisters who seem to come directly from the story Otto has just uncovered. 

From here, the larger story begins to take shape. The significance of mystery and wonder, as well as the overarching theme of music, is introduced in Otto’s dialogue with the three sisters. All of this sets the stage for a dramatic shift to occur in the story, a shift that will take place three different times and span three different generational time periods as well as three different geographical locations.

In essence, Ryan tells one larger-than-life narrative by utilizing the vantage point of three different characters: Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania and Ivy in California. Throughout these various stories, the main character remains the same: a captivating harmonica that seemingly finds its way into the hands of passionate musicians who are all interconnected in ways that are never fully realized by the individuals. 

Through her powerful attention to detail, Ryan narrates a driven story that addresses many themes that are easy to relate to and seem to transcend time and circumstance. She deals with political controversy, as Friedrich finds himself in the middle of Hitler’s rise to power. She deals with issues that are surrounded by the loss of loved ones and the struggle of discovering one’s place in the world as Mike and his little brother, Frankie, find themselves in an orphanage after the death of their parents and grandmother. She also deals with racism, as Ivy is confronted with its harsh reality during the process of moving to a new community that views cultural heritage differently than she is used to. 

Throughout it all, however, there stands in the middle of these issues a solution to overcoming adversities: the power of music.

While not every reader will identify as a musician, Ryan takes advantage of the seemingly ever-present realization that music plays a part, in some way or another, in the lives of most people who inhabit this earth. By using music as a medium, she gives her readers something they can relate to as she wrestles with the thematic issues addressed above. Couple this with her ability to spin a story, and this novel has the potential to be a pretty big book that leaves a pretty big impression on its readers.


Derek Moser is assistant circulation supervisor for the Joplin Public Library.


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