Thursday, July 23, 2015

Audiobook review: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Goodreads summary:
Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. 

I normally like to write my own plot summaries before getting down to writing my thoughts about a book because I feel like a more legit book reviewer that way. But sometimes a book is so beautiful and complex that it takes your breath away and you can't even find the words to describe what it's about. You just know that it's a book that needs to be felt and no amount of plot synopses will convince someone to read it because it's one of those books you have tell people, "Trust me on this. Just read it." 

Echo is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, or listened to as it were. The listening experience I think is superior to reading the physical book. Because Echo revolves around the magic of music, hearing the pieces that Ryan describes adds an extra emotional element to the narrative that reading alone cannot fulfill. There were many times I had to stop what I was doing, close my eyes, and let the music take me away, like when Friedrich walked by a window and heard the melancholy melody of Beethoven's Für Elise.

At the next corner, he turned down the thoroughfare. When he reached the music conservatory, he could hear someone practicing the piano in an upper story Beethoven's "Für Elise." For this he stopped and lifted his head, becoming lost in the music. 

Unconsciously, his hand rose and bounced to the time of the song. Friedrich smiled as he pretended the musician was following his direction. He closed his eyes and imagined the notes sprinkling down and  washing his face clean.

 Or when Mike sat at the concert grand piano at Mrs. Sturbridge's house for the first time and played the longing and mournful notes of Chopin's Nocturne in  C-Sharp Minor

A music book stood on the stand. He flipped the pages until he came to the Chopin Nocturne no. 20. He positioned his hands, feeling the desire, like a magnet drawing his fingertips closer.

He played the opening chords. The room filled with the rich timbre of the piano and its full-bodied tone. It wasn't like any piano he'd ever heard before. The high notes sounded brighter, the now ones darker and more ominous. 

Those moments when I could actually hear the music and not just attempt to hear it in my mind, made the story so much richer and more impactful for me. I may have cried a time or two or four. 

Because the presence of the music in the audiobook was so integral to the listening experience, there was actually a moment toward the end of the book when the absence of music detracted from the narrative and made it feel like something was missing. When Mike was playing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, there was no music to accompany Ryan's descriptions. Since a soundtrack always accompanied the narration every other time music was mentioned in the story, this moment's absence it felt like there was a gaping hole in the audio production. If I had to venture a guess as to why it was missing, I'd say it likely had to do with permissions and copyright issues, so I hate to fault the audiobook producer for this missing element, but I do think it marred the listening experience just the slightest bit. It made me downgrade the audiobook from absolute perfection to pretty amazing – which is still a pretty darn good rating.

When I first saw the heft of Echo
– and the fact that it was historical fiction – I initially balked. I could not imagine who I would recommend this book to. Historical fiction is already a hard enough sell, but then when you factor in the length, I thought Echo was doomed from the start. But I was too quick to judge. This book is beyond masterfully written – though it is that – with its delicately woven threads coming perfectly together to a seamless whole at the end. And while yes, this is historical fiction, it is also much more than that. There is an emotional element to this story that I find most historical fiction, no matter how compelling, often lacks. Echo is a book for not only the readers in your life who love music, but also for those sensitive readers who are looking for books to be transcendent – to give you an experience beyond your emotions, becoming almost a spiritual experience. And that is what makes Echo more than just a heartprint book for me – it is a book that feeds my soul.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Audiobook narrators: Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Andrews MacLeod, Rebecca Soler
Published: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 592
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 37 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Audiobook library download/ Purchased hardcover

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  1. Quest, prophecy, yada yada, . . . harmonica! That alone would make me pick the book up, and with your ringing endorsement I think I'll have to go looking for this one! Sounds a bit like The Red Violin for the younger set? (With presumably less sex and tortured angst!)

    I don't have the patience for audiobooks, but it sounds like I should have youtube running so I can create my own soundtrack as I read. I love that idea.

  2. I can wholeheartedly agree with your feelings regarding Echo! The funny thing is that I read the paper copy, and I've heard so many wonderful things about the audiobook. I think I'm going to have to get the audiobook and reread "with my ears". :)