Lauren Wolk’s previous book, Beyond the Bright Sea, is one of my absolute favourite books. When I heard Lauren had a new book coming out I was very eager to get my hands on it and see where she would take me next. The cover alone is one of the best covers of 2020 and would draw any reader in! In Echo Mountain, Lauren Wolk transports readers back to a time that is both simpler and harder. There is no technology so distractions are few and it’s quiet, but the doctor is far away and you must trade for food or grow it yourself. Lauren introduces us to Ellie and her family, making a home on Echo Mountain.
It is 1934 and Ellie’s family have been hit hard by the stock market crash. Her father was a tailor and her mother was a teacher but business for them both had dried up, so the family must move from the city to the wilds of Echo Mountain. They survive by growing food and trading what they can. When Ellie’s father slips in to a coma after an accident on the farm their lives are changed forever. While Ellie’s mother and sister use lullabies to soothe him, Ellie sees that this is doing nothing to help him get better. Ellie determines to do anything she can to wake her father, from pouring ice cold water on him, putting a snake in his bedroom to make her sister scream, and making her own medicine. When Ellie is out collecting ingredients for her medicine a mysterious dog leads her to a hut the top of the mountain, where she discovers a sick, old woman called Cate. As Ellie helps Cate to heal she starts to heal her family. The more that Ellie learns about those around her, the more connections she uncovers
Echo Mountain is an engaging, character-driven story that leaves you feeling like you have just lived Ellie’s life right beside her. Ellie is a person who has strong emotional connection to things around her. She feels the pain of tree roots as she walks through the woods, she feels great sadness when honeybees die trying to sting her. As you read you feel Ellie’s determination to wake her father and the frustration that her sister and mother won’t break out of their slump. Adults in the story keep mentioning that she is ‘only 12’ but she is the one using her commonsense and is willing to do anything she can to help the ones she loves, whether that is her puppy, her father or Cate. She realises that to save her family she is the one to do it. If she doesn’t know how to do something ‘the best way to learn is to do it,’ something she has learnt from her father.
It’s a story about identity. It’s about Ellie trying to figure out who she is, but also realising that people aren’t just the person you see on the outside. Ellie says “For a long time, I’d thought that people simply were who they were and became who they became. But I didn’t think that anymore.” Ellie learns that Cate is not simply ‘the hag’ that everyone believes she is, but a kind, caring person who has been affected by the events in her life. Ellie also realises that her mother isn’t just the sad woman whose husband is sick, that she was a different person before she moved to the mountain and a different person again before she met Ellie’s father.
If you haven’t yet read one of Lauren Wolk’s books read Echo Mountain and fall in love with her writing.