A boy makes a mystical journey into a forest where he meets three enchanted women and receives an enchanted harmonica. Later the harmonica falls into the hands three very musically sensitive children. The first is a boy with a birth-marked face who works at a harmonica factory in Germany at the beginning of the rise of Hitler. The second is a boy in an orphanage who is trying to save his little brother from getting sent to a work house. The third is a Hispanic girl in California who must endure racial prejudice while her brother fights in WWII. The harmonica gives each child comfort and courage to face heartbreak and challenges.
This book has received a lot of attention this year. It got stars in many of the major review sources and I would not be surprised if it is a serious Newbery contender. Of course, Ms Ryan has won many awards before, including a Pura Belpre award for Esperanza Rising. The writing is masterful in this book, and achingly poignant. My issue with the book was that is was too big of a dose of poignancy. Each of the stories ends with a heart wrenching cliff hanger, (which are, admittedly, all tied up in a glorious ending) but by the end of the second story line, I was frankly tired of having my heart strings played on. I felt a little emotionally manipulated and I almost gave up on it. I stuck it out, though, and it did have a very satisfying ending.
I listened to the book on recording. That had its benefits and draw backs. The recorded version contains snatches of all the musical pieces mentioned in the book. That was nice because a reader doesn't have to remember what Beethoven's Ode to Joy sounds like to enjoy the book. The drawback is that all the inserted music clips really slow down the narrative. I think that I might have actually enjoyed the book more if I had read it instead of listening to it, because I am the kind of person who actually does know what Beethoven's Ode to Joy sounds like.
Anyway, give it a whirl. If it wins the Newbery my ARC version signed by the author at last year's ALSC meeting might be worth something.:) (585 p)