Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk
Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Carrie Bruner
Lauren Wolk’s ability to capture the beauty of nature through her words and her ability to clearly portray strong female characters made the 2017 Newbery Honor winning Wolf Hollow such a pleasure to read. Those abilities carry through to her newest book, ECHO MOUNTAIN.
With the opening line, “The first person I saved was a dog”, we are introduced to twelve year old Ellie, the middle child in a family of three. A remarkable girl who is forced to move to the mountains of Maine during the Great Depression, the book follows Ellie and her family as they face the loneliness of mountain living and the difficulties that this move brings.
Wolk is masterful at delineating the characters in her story, especially when it comes to showing the different ways that grief expresses itself. With Ellie, it is how she throws herself into trapping, fishing, and foraging. Despite the determination and bravery that Ellie shows with these skills, we still deeply feel her grief at no longer having that shared love of the outdoors with her father, and for potentially being the cause of his coma. The grief she feels is apparent with the increasingly desperate steps she takes to wake her father from his coma. We feel Ellie’s mother’s grief at losing the support system of her husband and her self-worth with losing her teaching job; and even with Esther, Ellie’s older sister, we see that she cannot really afford to show grief because of the responsibilities that come with being the oldest. And, with Cate, we deeply feel her despair at the loss of her son, and we sympathize with the desire to run away from our past when we are so deeply scarred.
Despite this being a middle grade novel, there is some imagery that may be difficult for some readers, especially the rabbit skinning, the clobbering of the fish, and the description of Cate’s maggot covered wound. However, despite that, I feel that those descriptions are appropriate to correctly convey what life was like during this time. The isolation of the mountain and the poverty necessitated these actions because there were no other means of survival at this time in history. Furthermore, Wolk is explicit in detailing the respect that Ellie and Cate had for the animals they hunted, and the devastation that Ellie felt in taking the last of the honey from the hive to help heal Cate.
Although there are other middle grade novels set during the Great Depression, including award winners like ESPERANZA RISING by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool, I am hard-pressed to think of one that moves its setting to the mountains during this time in American history. Furthermore, Maine is an unusual setting for middle grade novels as is, with CHARLOTTE’S WEB being the only title that pops into my head.
ECHO MOUNTAIN is a poetically written novel that highlights the struggles the characters faced during the Great Depression and forges a deep emotional connection to the characters with the reader. Lauren Wolk has again proved herself worthy of the Newbery Honor she previously received.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST (10:00 am PST).
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
SLJ Blog Network