Did all the people of Ember escape the city? What did they think of the strange new world above ground? How did they survive on their own? These are intriguing questions that City of Ember ended with, and ones that Jeanne DuPrau had originally intended to leave up to the reader's imagination. But the idea was too irresistible, and so Jeanne DuPrau wrote the sequel, People of Sparks.
The people of Ember leave their underground city and begin to adjust to the bright, open, wide world. Soon they stumble upon the village of Sparks—a cluster of fields and houses peopled by descendants of above-ground survivors of the great Disaster. The Emberites' knowledge is practically useless in this agrarian society, and the people of Sparks take pity on the starving, terrified people. They agree to provide for them for six months—but after that, they'll be turning the Emberites out to fend for themselves.
With their population doubled, the people of Sparks are afraid that their food supply will run out and they will be plunged back into the poverty and starvation from which their village crawled. Lina and Doon begin to experience these concerns firsthand as resentment turns to anger, anger turns to hatred, and hatred turns to violence.
The dystopian setting merely hinted at in the first book is further developed in People of Sparks. Vague cataclysmic Wars and Plagues are mentioned, the result of nations using nuclear weapons. Lina travels to an abandoned city, full of crumbling skyscrapers and rubble-filled streets, where the sunset burns like fire through the holes in the empty buildings.
The Disaster itself and the causes leading up to it are clearly used to mirror the smaller scale conflicts of the book. DuPrau has one theme in this book, and she hits it hard, over and over again. Violence leads to more violence; hate to more hate; anger to more anger. The story is not particularly subtle, but (for a children's book) it's not overtly preachy either.
If the theme itself is simplistic, the solutions, too, end up being simplistic. A (convenient) catastrophe occurs, forcing the people of Sparks and Ember to work together to solve their problem. But it's Lina's one simple act of courage and love that ultimately ends up breaking the cycle, and this is the message that the book ends with. That one act may be simple, but it's one of the hardest things to do.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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