by Pam Munoz Ryan
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
This story opens with a bit of fairy tale enchantment and then dives right into the first of three stories about a harmonica, which takes place in Nazi Germany. I almost didn’t want to continue, having no great fondness for Holocaust / World War II stories, and at one point it almost got too scary/suspenseful for me to read at bedtime (also having just read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; I’m also just a lightweight when it comes to scary stuff, but I digress). However, it seemed like a new take on the WWII theme, so I stuck with it: Friedrich is singled out for sterilization due to a birthmark marring his face. Ryan has a way of dropping the reader into each story seamlessly, and then plucking you out of it just when things look worst for the hero – she does this with Friedrich, and again with Mike, an orphan in the 1930s in Pennsylvania, and again with Ivy in the 1940s in California. Part four brings each of them together again, though, and [SPOILER ALERT] you find out everything turned out okay.
As I was reading, I realized this would make a fantastic movie. Ryan really knows how to describe a scene so beautifully, and the story is so musical that would lend itself well to flashback scenes. Many songs got stuck in my head while reading. Each of the three protagonists is musically gifted, which plays a huge role in each of their lives. This book was a refreshing take on World War II stories, deftly exploring such often-ignored themes as: groups other than the Jews who were persecuted; life under the rise of the Third Reich before WWII started; the effects of the Great Depression in the United States; Japanese internment camps; and more – immigration, the underlying humanity in all people and, above all, how music knows no boundaries. In short, this book is incredible. Go read it already – and get ready for Newbery buzz about it!