***This review has also been posted on The Social Potato
This book. Oh my god this book. I'd be lying if I said I didn’t know what I was getting into before I started reading the book but knowing how many emotions you will be bombarded with doesn’t really prepare you for them. Nothing does until you’ll sitting there yelling at the book for giving you too many feels (this happened). This book is so gorgeously written and so beautifully imagined and I don’t know where to start.
Perhaps I shall start with the one thing that didn’t work for me and then move on to all the good stuff because good stuff.
There is so much build up and so many emotions running through this book that by the time I got to the ending, I had expected something big and huge but I didn’t get that. The resolutions seemed too easy after everything our characters had been through.
And while it may be surprising that I am even suggesting this given the size of the book (it stands at a whopping 592 pages... for the final copy), I think this book should have been longer. I needed a stronger resolution. One that didn’t leave me feeling like I had missed out on a big chunk of these characters’ lives.
So there, bad stuff out of the way. Now on to the good stuff. The stuff I cannot even begin describing because I am not sure I am capable of doing justice to this book with my limited vocabulary. Soooooo… this book IS AWESOMESAUCE. It’s heartbreaking, it’s diverse and it’s so so GOOD.
It takes you on a roller coaster of emotions and when you start to fall, you are left hanging, hoping for the best, hoping against hope that there will be a happy ending even though real life offers few. How can I explain the roller coaster of emotions? How can I even begin to explain how MUCH PAIN I WAS IN. How much joy I felt and all the mushy gushy feelings in my heart. Stupid hearts. Making you feel stuff. I think I need to take a break from my heart. HEART, I NEED SPACE OKAY?
This book is divided into 4 parts. The first 3 introduce you to three different characters who are all connected by one simple harmonica, a harmonica that will bring them joy when life will seem bleak, a harmonica that has a magical background story and a harmonica that has a purpose.
Friedrich lives in pre World War II Germany, in a world where he gets to slowly experience Hitler's rise to power. He is witness to all the injustices committed against his fellow friends and even his own father. It’s heartbreaking to read about all these injustices and it’s even more heartbreaking to know what might happen to Friedrich if they don’t leave Germany. The thing that is so fascinating about Friedrich though is how he manages to retain his beliefs even knowing what could be done to him because of them. The only reason he isn’t out there screaming about the injustice of it all is because he doesn’t want to endanger his family.
His story, unsurprisingly, is a heartbreaking one.
Then we have Mike and Frankie. Their story is just as heartbreaking even if there lives aren’t as affected by the World War. What they are is orphans, living in a time period where no one cares as much about orphans. Mike, at the young age of 11, has to be incharge of his younger brother and making sure that the two aren’t separated. At the tender age of 11, he has to put someone else’s safety and happiness above his own and if that isn’t heartbreaking, I don’t know what is. Mike is just as brave and lovable as Friedrich and his journey just as beautiful to read about.
The last main character we meet is young Ivy who lives in California. Who, on top of having to deal with moving to a new place, has to deal with injustices at school because of the color of her skin. She just wants to play her music but she cannot even do that in peace. She has to hold her family together, because she promised her brother who is away at war but how can she do that when she has trouble holding herself together? Throughout her story, we get to Ivy grow into herself and mature. We see her make new friends and we see her grow protective about a Japanese family she hasn’t even met. It makes you wonder how these kids can even stand to think about someone other than themselves when their situations are so dire.
Their hearts must be so ginormous.
I don't want to talk too much about the historical and magic realism contexts of this novel but know that Pam Ryan Munoz knows what she is doing. This novel may not be about the historical events but the historical setting is NEVER forgotten.
It's what affects all of these young kids' lives.
The stories of these three young kids are moving and heartbreaking but at the same time, they offer hope. They show us that not all is lost even when things look like they are never going to get better.
This book is so important and so beautiful and I don’t know what else to say except that you all need to read this. I went into this book knowing I would love it since Ryan is one of my favorite childhood authors and all I can hope is that when you read it, you'll love it just as much as I did.