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18 January 2021 ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk, Dutton, April 2020, 368p., ISBN: 978-0-525-55556-8


“In 1930 when the Wall caved in

He made his way selling red-eye gin”

Hunter/Garcia, “Brown Eyed Women” (1972)


“At first, the bees simply tumbled across my father’s temple, looking for a way past the rim of the jar where it pressed against his skin, but when I rapped my knuckles against the glass and bent low with a quick shout, they both stung my father and died doing it, protecting a comb they’d already lost, their church-window wings going still, their fuzzy bodies broken, poor little unlucky things that they were.

‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered as I pulled the jar free and gently swept them away with my fingertip. 

And just like that, twin lumps rose up on my father’s temple. 

I watched my father’s eyes, hoping they would roll, hoping they would open. 

And that was when he groaned.”


Having grown up in the homogeneity of the suburbs, I found poetry and beauty in the Seventies back-to-the-earth movement. It was an adventure to live on farms out in spacious, green expanses of the country. But it was never a question of survival, like it is for this family of five who, in 1934, find themselves holed up in a small cabin in rural Maine.


ECHO MOUNTAIN, set during the Great Depression, features a family from town who, having lost their home, has retreated up a mountain to minimize expenses. That was three years ago. Now twelve-year-old middle child Ellie will come to join forces with Larkin, whose grandmother lives reclusively at the top of the mountain. 


When Ellie meets Larkin’s grandmother Cate, the older woman has recently suffered a life- threatening injury after an encounter with a wildcat. Ellie and Larkin try to save Cate in the depths of the Depression, when nobody has money for a doctor or anything else to spare. 


At the same time, Ellie’s father lies in a coma at home after a tree he was cutting down falls on him. This terrible accident was set in motion by Ellie’s young brother Samuel, who wandered into the scene at the wrong moment. Ellie lept into danger to save Samuel, Dad pushed them both aside, and the tree smashed Dad.  A typical get-along, middle child, Ellie refrains from blaming their oft-grumpy and bossy big sister Esther, who was supposed to be watching Samuel. 


Their dad, with whom Ellie is especially close, is in really bad shape. This coming-of-age story tells of surviving utter poverty, getting to know the wise older woman, and learning healing arts by doing, is told from the perspective of the sensitive Ellie. 


“I myself was two opposite things at the same time. One: I was now an excellent woods-girl who could hunt and trap and fish and harvest as if I’d been born to it. Two: I was an echo-girl. When I clubbed a fish to death, my own head ached and shuddered. When I snared a rabbit, I knew what it meant to be trapped. And when I pulled a carrot from the sheath of its earth, I, too, missed the darkness.

There were times when this two-ness made me feel as if I were being stretched east and west, my bones creaking and crying as they strained back toward one.”


This beautifully-written nail-biter is full of heart. It's a tale that provides a vivid and intimate look at what it was like during the country’s worst financial crash. It depicts the tension, for the families on the mountain, between survival and neighborliness. It’s a lovely story for 10-14 year olds.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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