Note: Since this is a sequel there are spoilers for the prior book even in the blurb. Something to keep in mind if you haven’t read The City of Ember and don’t want to be spoiled.
Title: The People of Sparks
Series Title: The Book of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Date Added: September 12, 2017
Date Started: October 22, 2017
Date Finished: October 23, 2017
Reading Duration: 1 day
Genre: Mid-grade/Young Adult (YA), Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian
When Lina and Doon lead their people up from the underground city of Ember, they discover a surface world of color and life. The people of a small village called Sparks agree to help the Emberites, but the villagers have never had to share their world before. Soon differences between the two groups escalate, and it’s up to Lina and Doon to find a way to avoid war!
In the riveting sequel to the highly acclaimed The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau explores the nature of conflict and the strength and courage necessary to overcome it.
We will renounce violence, which is so easy to start, but so hard to control.
In the second Book of Ember, Lina and Doon play Moses in leading the exodus from their dying city. The find a settlement called Sparks where the descendants of the Disaster survivors live. Having absolutely no experience or even knowledge of the world they’ve found themselves in, they ask the leaders of the village for help.
While I understood what DuPrau was going for in this sequel, I found so many things so goddamn annoying. When the people of Ember come to Sparks, there’s obviously a discussion amongst the village leaders about what should be done with these 200 plus extra bodies. While I understand portions of their dilemma, the Emberites have no knowledge of the world. How could they since they’ve literally lived underground their entire lives up to that point. They don’t understand seasons, sunsets, or even rain. It’s not something within the realm of their experience, because the Builders purposely denied them this knowledge. You can only know what you’re taught, and though I can see skepticism for whether or not they’re telling the truth about a underground city, if you accept that, it is absolutely abhorrent to shame and bully them for knowledge they could never have. There were so many times in this novel where someone would become cross with an Emberite for not knowing something of which they’d have no experience like fire, which they show an understandable fear of.
This isn’t to say the people of Sparks shouldn’t be able to protect their own interests, and that’s exactly the point DuPrau is trying to make. She’s tackling the idea of nationalism (“America First” *vomit*) even before this became a current hot button issue. Of course the villagers need to to ensure they have enough for themselves, but in treating the Emberites like second class citizens and threatening removal (deportation), they’re not being oppressive, they’re also depriving themselves of an additional workforce that could provide more for all.
Ironically, the Emberites were born and grew up in a world with technology the people of Sparks lack. The former had electricity and running water; modern conveniences now lost after the Disaster. Everything has reverted 200-300 years ago, coinciding with how long ago the apocalypse happened. Not only technology was lost, but also medical knowledge. Not even the town’s doctor knows about antibiotics. While she understands (because she’s seen) wounds sometimes fester and become infected, she doesn’t really know why. She only has an old medical book to go by, which isn’t enough.
DuPrau was seeking to disrupt the “us vs. them” paradigm by showing that “us and them” are the same, but she wound up making the people of Sparks into gigantic bullies. How are they going to make the Emberites leave in the middle of winter? How would anyone, let alone refugees from a dying underground city who know nothing about the world, survive when it’s freezing cold and they have no way to grow/find food? The cruelty of it was too far-fetched, unless the residents of Sparks literally wanted the people of Ember to die, which, while a possibility, is a bit dark for a mid-grade novel. The author does do a good job portraying metaphors for racism, discrimination, and oppression, which is what “us vs. them” thinking entails.