Ryan, Pam Munoz Echo, 592 pgs. Scholastic Press, 2015. $19.99. Language: G (0 swears, 0 F); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG.
A compilation of several long stories, beginning with a boy who reads a fairy tale that comes to life, establishing the special musical powers of an harmonica. 50 years later, it is found by a boy in 1930s Germany. Hitler has come to power, but not everyone is on his side. Things get complicated when his older sister joins the girls’ branch of the Hitler Youth and announces that the seizures Friedrich suffered as a baby as well as his birthmark make him a candidate for sterilization. Friedrich is a gifted musician. If he can get accepted to the music conservatory and, despite his and his fathers feelings about Hitler, show he is a loyal follower, perhaps he can be granted a concession. But when his father invites a Jewish musician into his home to play in a quartet, his father is sent to Dachau, and the harmonica is sent to America in a box of new harmonicas to be eventually purchased by . . .
11-year-old Ivy is a 3rd generation American. Her father is a gifted farmer who has moved his Mexican-American family to manage a Japanese owned farm in Los Angeles in 1942, because the owners are in an internment camp. A gifted musician, Ivy had been selected to play a harmonica solo on the radio before they moved from Fresno (she is now the owner of the special harmonica) and finds LA a very different place, with segregated schools and a suspicious neighbor who fears that the Japanese family are really spies. She has promised her brother who has joined the Army that she will hold the family together but this proves difficult as LA is so different from Fresno.
I chose this book because of the author, (Esperanza Rising) and had hoped the page count would not present a problem. A mashup of historical fiction and fairy tale, the stories end abruptly (after 200 or so pages each) with no resolution (until the very end - - if you can hang on that long) the connecting thread being the harmonica. After the first story ended on such a cliffhanger, I was suspicious of the other stories. It ruined the reading experience for me. A really long, unsatisfying read which I would have rather seen as a series of separate books. Spoiler alert: even the culminating chapters’ pulling everything together were not enough to save this; Too long for middle school, too young for high school. Disappointing. NO Lisa Librarian