Friday, December 12, 2014

Book of Ember Series

by Jeanne DuPrau

The Books of Ember are a series of four 'tween books that I started reading because of my little pew buddy at church. She was so excited about this series and her eyes lit up when she was telling me about Lina and her friend Doon who were living in an underground city, having been spared from nuclear fallout a few hundred years prior. Always the sucker for a good book, I began reading.

The first, The City of Ember, introduces all of the characters, describes their city and the struggles they are beginning to face as resources are becoming scarce and their electric spotty. DuPrau does a good job in making likable and engaging characters and in creating a sense of their urgency in trying to find solutions to their struggles. The two main characters, 12-year olds Lina and Doon, discover a secret message, which after deciphering it, shows them an escape. Try as they might to convince the townspeople to leave, they are unable to, and so the two set out on their own.

After that comes The People of Sparks. Upon coming above ground for the first time, Lina and Doon see what a huge and amazing place they have discovered and know they must convince other Emberites to follow. Although some people remain behind, many do come out, and this small group starts an exploration of Earth above ground. Soon they encounter the small city of Sparks, who they then try to join. In it we meet Tick, who is a little bit of a troublemaker and not very friendly to the new residents. This story presents ideas about prejudice and cultural understandings in a straightforward and easy to understand manner. It also teaches the lesson about returning good for evil without being preachy.  A very good sequel!

And this is where it all falls apart; in The Prophet of Yonwood.  DuPrau had such a good thing going in the first two stories, and then decided to provide a back story. Yonwood totally removes the reader from the intimacy created with the previous characters and takes you back 300 years, before the Great Disaster that required the building of Ember in the first place. This strategy might have worked if:
a) it were written for an older audience
b) it retained a similar style and voice as the previous books
and c) there had been a more clear connection between it and Ember

The prophet in this story is a lady who seems to have had some traumatic illness or injury, after which she sees a vision of a great war and then is left almost non-communicative. Wanting more information, the town leaders listen to and try to interpret some of her additional mumblings, which they use to issue decrees on their citizens. This story explores some very deep themes of religion and asks some hard questions about faith, following God and perspectives on evil, which also may have been more appropriate for older readers. But they are concepts that believers wrestle with and have to sort out.

The thing is, this book may have been fine as a stand alone novel, but the Ember story didn't need a back story, and this attempt just served to distract from rather than enhance the flow of the series.

And so, I never got to The Diamond of Darkhold. I've kind of lost that sense of urgency to see what becomes of Lina and Doon in the new world. And apparently I'm not the only one,  I've read some reviews that lead me to believe Ms. DuPrau lost it too, which is unfortunate.

Should you (or your kids) read this series? Maybe if you skipped the Prophet book.
Should you read the Prophet book at all (or before the others)? Sure, just don't think of it as any part of the series as it doesn't make any contribution to it. It would make for great discussion.

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