101 pages 3 hours read

Lauren Wolk

Echo Mountain

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2020

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide


Echo Mountain is a middle-grade historical fiction novel written by Lauren Wolk and originally published in 2020. Lauren Wolk is a writer of young adult and adult fiction. Echo Mountain is the recipient of several awards, including the Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year, the NPR Best Book of the Year, and the Kirkus Best Book of the Year. The novel takes place in Maine in 1934, during the depths of the Great Depression.

This guide uses the 2021 Dutton Books for Young Readers paperback edition of the novel.

Plot Summary

In 1934, protagonist Ellie narrates her family’s new life on Echo Mountain in Maine. They are originally from a town called Bethel, where Ellie’s father worked as a skilled tailor and her mother as a music teacher. Ellie’s older sister, Esther, is prudish and difficult during the first few years on the mountain; her younger brother, Samuel, is bull-headed and takes to life anywhere. Ellie and her father adjust to mountain life quickly and together create a cabin, garden, and cowshed. Before the main action of the novel, Ellie’s father falls into a coma after being struck by a falling tree. The novel begins as the family dog, Maisie, has puppies. One of them appears to be dead, but Ellie revives it by submerging it in a bucket of cold water. Ellie pronounces the dog her own, naming it “Quiet.” This begins her story of nurturing and helping those who need her.

Ellie tries various tactics to awaken her father: She dumps cold water on him and throws a snake in his room to make Esther scream. Her mother and sister view her as becoming wild, and the distance between them and Ellie grows. Meanwhile, Ellie begins finding mysterious carvings and glimpses a boy in the woods when she finds each one.

In the woods one day, Ellie encounters a wild dog that eyes her curiously as if trying to communicate with her. This dog belongs to Cate, an old woman who lives up the mountain and whom neighbors think is a “hag” or a witch. On another day, while looking for Samuel, Ellie finds a clearing with a cabin—a home filled with books and tools and a woman, Cate, lying sick in her bed. Her leg is badly wounded and infected. Cate instructs Ellie to gather some honey and bring it to fill the wound. When she returns to the cabin, she meets a boy named Larkin, Cate’s grandson. Cate’s deceased son, Larkin’s father, was a craftsman who made string instruments. Ellie and Larkin tend to Cate’s wound. On her way home, Ellie sees Larkin’s mother across the clearing and can sense her deep pain.

Ellie’s father briefly opens his eyes one morning, instilling in Ellie a new sense of hope and determination to help him. She spends the next few weeks going back and forth between helping Cate and helping her father. Ellie feels at home with Cate and Larkin, as if she understands them and they understand her. Cate explains how the townspeople treat her as a dangerous witch, and Ellie finds that Larkin has a negative view of townspeople as well. He confesses that he gifted the carvings in secret because he did not know what to expect from Ellie and her family. His mother scolds him whenever he visits Cate or interacts with Ellie because she worries he will learn too much and want to leave the mountain.

Ellie arrives home one day to find Esther reading to her father as he sleeps. That night, Larkin’s mother arrives at Ellie’s home and threatens her to stay away from Larkin. Ellie’s mother defends her, adding that Ellie and Larkin are friends now. Ellie tells her mother and sister everything about Cate and Larkin and the family they have lost. Ellie’s mother reveals how much she misses her life in the town, and Ellie knows that she is not the only one torn between two worlds.

In the middle of the night, Captan comes to Ellie’s cabin with Cate’s doll in his mouth. Ellie knows something is wrong, and Esther uncharacteristically offers to go with her up the mountain. When they reach Cate’s cabin, Esther realizes that Cate is Mrs. Cleary, the nurse who treated her earaches in town when she was young. Esther and Cate instantly reconnect, and Esther stays at the cabin to help Cate while Ellie heads back home again. The next morning, Cate’s wound is festering again, and she asks for more honey. Ellie and Larkin frantically visit all of the neighbors in search of honey, and finally they resort to visiting a hive near Ellie’s cabin. Before heading back up the mountain, Ellie attempts to jolt her father awake once more—this time with bee stings. The experience causes Ellie’s father to groan, and Ellie has hope that he will wake up soon.

On the walk up to Cate’s cabin, Larkin explains that Cate ended up there alone after her son (his father) died. It was his father’s work cabin, and Cate felt most safe and connected to her son there. They arrive to find Cate’s leg is worse than before, and Ellie knows that Cate’s only hope is to bring her down the mountain. They carry Cate down slowly. Ellie takes Cate to her father’s room, and Cate and her father sleep side by side as Ellie tends to both of them. Cate seems ready to accept her death, but Ellie is not, and she makes one final attempt to heal Cate’s wound. She creates a dam around the wound and fills it with vinegar to clean it out.

That night, Captan wakes Ellie’s mother. He sings a sort of dog song, guiding Ellie’s mother into her husband’s room. The entire family follows, and soon Ellie realizes that Captan is urging Ellie’s mother to play her mandolin. Hearing his wife’s music, Ellie’s father awakes with full awareness in his eyes. Larkin arrives with a doctor, who cleans and stitches Cate’s wound, ensuring her survival. He finds Ellie’s father to be in fine shape aside from some muscle weakness. The family is elated and spends the next days helping the two patients heal. Cate and Captan stay at Ellie’s home for a while, resting and bonding with the family. Ellie’s relationship with her mother and sister starts to heal. Ellie also develops an affection for Larkin, and the novel ends with her finding another one of his carvings and running off into the woods to find him.