I went into Echo Mountain, by Lauren Wolk, not quite knowing what I was getting into. That was a good thing, for once I stepped foot into the story of young Ellie and her family, living on an isolated mountain during the Great Depression, I was transported to time and place so thoroughly, I could barely put the novel down (and now need to get my hands on her Wolf Hollow, too, I guess).
The writing here is just beautiful, and while this book is a young adult fiction, Wolk never writes down to her readers. Instead, her prose brings us so thoroughly into Ellie’s world that it’s hard to shake loose from her story, in which her father is in a coma (which her family lays blame on Ellie, who takes the blame to protect her younger brother, whom she saved from the tree her father was cutting, only to have him run to save her and get crushed by the tree).
Meanwhile, Ellie falls in love with the mountain and its terrain, and all of its natural powers of beauty and allure, and danger, too. In particular, she is becoming a self-taught healer, with a mission to find a way, any way possible, to wake her father from his coma and save her family.
While on that mission to help her father, another story thread emerges, that of the old “hag” who lives farther up the mountain, in isolation and maybe with some magical powers of her own. When Ellie finally goes there to that hut, all sorts of story tapestries are being woven by Wolk, and remembered, and it was afterwards — when I was done with the book — that the “echo” of the title made complete sense as I saw the tale in its whole, and I nodded in appreciation to Wolk’s writing talents.
Little is given away in this story, until the moment it is needed, and yet, in doing so, Wolk reveals much of human nature and the spirit of survival, and the power of family and memory, of music and stories, of the ways we heal ourselves even when all seems lost. Echo Mountain is a place to visit, and learn from, too.
Peace (up and over and down again),