The Universal Language: A Review of ‘Echo’

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”—Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

Interest Level:

Grades 5-9

Reading Level:

Grade 6

Review and Thoughts

Pam Munoz Ryan begins her story with a legend.  A little boy lost in the woods begins to read the story of three princesses cursed to wander the woods.  He is eventually found, disoriented and confused.  His memories of what took place are soon dismissed and forgotten.

The novel continues with three separate stories that each share a strange and mystical harmonica.  There is the story of Freidrich, a musical genius who is an outcast in early Nazi Germany, Mike, an orphan who must protect his brother in Pennsylvania, and Ivy, a young girl in California attempting to help her family start a better life while working to help a Japanese family who is suffering.  Each story is separate, yet they all end together in a beautifully, musical ending.

Munoz’s novel is one of my current favorites for young adult readers.  I absolutely loved each of the stories and Munoz was careful to build detailed characterization with each person.  Though I was disappointed when each individual story ended, it didn’t take long to become attached to the next character.  The finale of the book is brilliant.  It connects the characters and finishes each story.

I absolutely recommend this book.  It is wonderful story-telling, which is rare in a lot of popular young adult literature, and I think it will captivate avid readers.  I think the length of the book (592 pages) may turn some kids away, but I promise, it is worth the read.

Possible Issues

  • There is a legend at the beginning that tells of a witch cursing three princesses.
  • There are a few intense moments at the ends of each character’s story.

Further Discussion

  • How can music build people?  How can it tear people down?
  • How many times does judging someone too quickly cause harm to characters in the story?

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