Twelve-year-old Ellie feels at home in the Maine woods of Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain. Her parents lost their home in the Great Depression and were forced to move, along with many neighbors, to the woods, where Ellie learned to hunt, fish and start a fire. Now, Ellie’s skills and confidence put her at odds with her resentful mother and older sister, who miss their former life in town.
Wolk vividly invokes the shock of losing an old way of life—of trading sidewalks for pine-needle paths, of swapping paper currency for barter with haircuts, eggs and firewood. She also sensitively conveys the swirl of emotions surrounding the accident that has put Ellie’s dad in a coma for months and left his family in a state of suspended grief. Ellie’s mother and sister blame Ellie for the accident, and Ellie’s mother copes by discouraging her daughter’s adaptability and curiosity, worrying that she’s becoming too wild.
Despite these hardships, Ellie remains determined to use her skills to keep her family safe and fed and to find a way to wake up her father. Her dubious yet logical efforts on this front are humorous and heartbreaking—and, just maybe, hopeful. Ellie’s life contains some big mysteries, as well. Who is leaving her beautifully carved miniature figurines? Might the “hag” who lives up the mountain know how to heal her father?
Fans of Wolk’s previous novels, including the Newbery Honor book Wolf Hollow, will once again relish the author’s evocative and touching language (Ellie cuts her hair “because the trees kept trying to comb it”) and her gift for revisiting history through the lens of fulsome and fascinating characters. In this complex, memorable novel, Wolk explores themes of social responsibility, modern versus traditional medicine, biological versus chosen family and more.
Through it all, the book pays heartfelt tribute to resilience and resourcefulness. As seen through the indefatigable Ellie’s wise young eyes, no detail, emotion, creature or scrap of fabric on Echo Mountain is too small to be without value.