Robotbee's Reviews > The City of Ember

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
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Jan 02, 12

bookshelves: important

I won't rehash all the explanations of plot that everyone else has taken on. Instead, I will restrict my comments to praise of Jeanne DuPrau for addressing touchy, pertinent issues that most authors (YA and otherwise) won't touch.

It is much easier to just hate the bad guys, to dismiss their actions as inexplicable, to declare that they are simply DIFFERENT from us and that is why they do bad things. In reality, it is not nearly so simple. Fear and deprivation drive even the best of people to desperate actions, and it is easy to justify doing something that would be considered bad under normal cirucmstances if your loved ones are in danger.

The citizens of Ember face darkness, which represents the unknown, as well as a food shortage. The narrative characters discover the imminent danger as well as the fact that those who are in power are taking advantage of their position to horde resources. While DuPrau firmly declares this behavior to be reprehensible, she allows Lina to sympathize with this impulse when she experiences feelings of greed herself.

The two main characters figure out how to escape their doomed city, making them heroes but also propelling them into an even greater unknown. DuPrau utilizes tons of symbolism, making their journey/prophecy fulfilment/self-sacrifice universal while still being accessible to a modern young audience.

THE PEOPLE OF SPARKS

**The next book addresses similar issues of desperation in the face of deprivation, as well as some interesting group psychology and the idea of "otherness." In The People of Sparks, the people of Ember join the people of Sparks, a town of fellow Disaster survivors.

(There is an interesting implication about the people of Ember that is never directly addressed, that they are the Chosen ones, hidden away in the Earth until it was safe to come out, laden with prophecy and myth, not left to survive by chance on the surface. Whether that was intended by the author, or just one of those universal themes that found its way into the story through the author's subconscious mind, remains to be seen.)

While the people of Sparks accept the people of Ember, there is a current of fear and distrust between them. Some even doubt the veracity of their story, finding it hard to believe that people lived underground. The idea that people with running water and electricity are afraid of fire is inexplicable to the people of Sparks. They are also surprised at the people of Ember's complete ignorance of such commonplace things as plants and animals. It is a really excellent way to convey to young people the unfairness of attributing stupidity or a lack of intellect to a people based on what they have been exposed to. This book is has lots of simplified and accessible commentary on cultural relativism, a subject I have rarely seen explored in young adult literature.

I find it very interesting that the people of Sparks and the people of Ember do not view their situation in terms of the survival of the species. We always assume that post-apocalyptic survivors would be all bent on perpetuating the human race, but there is almost none of that here, despite the fact that they understand, at least on some level, that they are among the last of their race. I suppose it is very easy to be philosophical about it when the apocalypse isn't upon us (I mean, who DOESN'T have a plan in place for the inevitable zombie apocalypse?) but I wonder how it would really play out. If your day-to-day survival was not a sure thing, would you even THINK about whether humanity would be around in two hundred years? Or would it mean MORE?

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