The City of Ember was OK, nothing spectacular...The People of Sparks was booorrriiinnnggggg...The Prophet of Yonwood? I got a few chapters in and just couldn't go on anymore. I realize that, as I am an adult, these books aren't marketed to me, they're made for young (VERY young) children, but having read engaging children's/young adult literature in the past, these books leave MUCH to be desired. When I was young I read The Hero and the Crown, Harry Potter, The Iron Ring, Ella Enchanted, Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Wrinkle in Time (the whole series), The Chronicles of Narnia, Julie of the Wolves, etc... all of which I would still enjoy (and have enjoyed) as an adult (whether bc of nostalgia or because they're simply good books, I cannot say for certain). More recently, as an adult, , I've read the Fablehaven books, The Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, all young adult series, and all three series that I enjoyed and would have loved had I been a kid.
That I disliked the Ember books so strongly and found them boring, despite my ability to generally enjoy young adult fiction even as an adult, makes me think 'young me' would not have liked them either.
What irked me the most is hard to determine, but if I had to choose I'd probably say the obvious, thinly-veiled, allegorical/"I'm now going to tell you the specific lesson you are supposed to get from this story" style of the writer.
These books pretty much read like this:
Example (summarized) from The CIty of Ember
DuPrau: And here's the moral of the story children: we should not let our anger get the better of us! (a reasonable idea, but watch how we're supposed to learn this lesson). So here is a cleverly placed example of why getting angry is so soo soooo bad: Doon got so angry he picked up a piece of junk from the living room and through it JUST as his father was coming through the door. OUCH. It hid Doon's dad on the head. Doon's dad was hurt and suggested that maybe throwing things wasn't a good idea...he'd always said letting your anger get the best of you could lead to unexpected consequences...
So THAT'S the moral of the episode kiddies! Anger leads to throwing things and hitting people in the head! .................o.O
(From the other books)
Or, "acting hastily without thinking/planning first can lead to problems later."
Or, "lying can get people in serious trouble."
Or, "war is bad." (O_O of course we shouldn't go to war over stupid things like who wrote "go back to your cave" in mud....) It's so obvious the lesson she's trying to convey through a trite, overly-simplified childish example more "suited to children" I suppose...>.> I get what you're saying, DuPrau, you don't have to hit me over the head with it; and by the way--kids are capable of picking up more subtle/complex themes and ideas, just like the big folks can. Surprise! Even if they can't, putting those bigger ideas in there increases the readability and re-readability of the books, making them more enjoyable for all ages.
Rather than deal with big ideas about life and what it means to navigate this complex, messy, morally ambiguous, difficult reality we live in, she decides to dwell on simple, "lesson of the day" type messages, along with relating what everyone eats and how much food they get each day and what individual jobs they have, etc etc...Not to mention how often the characters make decisions that are just plain stupid, just to highlight another one of DuPrau's little moral tales.
The people of ember have lived under the ground for years in a slowly dying city, they finally come up onto the surface and are faced with the struggle of surviving in a post-apocalyptic Earth that is completely foreign to them...how has this been made into a boring, simplistic backdrop to DuPrau's "lesson of the day???"
And let's go back a bit, wouldn't it have been interesting to see first-hand in the second book how the people of ember took the idea that there was a way out--how they dealt with that information, whether they believed it or not, how some decided to try to get out anyway, the horror of everyone being trampled on the way out. If she wanted to continue her "allegory of the cave" idea she had going, she could have had some believe and others not believe the message Lina and Doon sent down, she could have explored the beliefs of the "believers" who were waiting for the builders to come back to save them. There was just so much to explore there! But the author just skims over all that in a retelling by Lina's caretaker after the fact. It's just so poorly done!
Or, in the case of this prequel, we could have finally seen what happened--how the Earth's civilizations came crashing down, how the various disasters developed and how they affected what came later, how people could end up destroying each other, how the city of Ember was made and what made people think Ember would be a good idea, why there weren't more Embers out there. Heck, how 100 babies could be genetically diverse enough to have a sustainable population for a couple hundred years. Instead, we get a story about a girl who doesn't want to sell her grandad's house and the babbling lady "prophet" who is used to control a whole town...It's like the author thought that kids wouldn't want to know those things (and maybe they wouldn't, I don't know) so she tells a completely different story to get more of her "lessons" across that just happens to involve some people that lived before the end of pretty much everything.
There is so much wasted potential for a really great story here.
Summary: The characters are one-dimensional, the plots incredibly boring, the "message" of the books a giant cave-man club that continually whacks you over the head, forcing you into submission...and eventually unconsciousness. Overall, I'm surprised the Ember books are so popular, especially among us "bigger folk." I won't be reading the next one; a wikipedia search as provided me with the essential plot points to satisfy what little curiosity I had about what happened to Doon and Lina, as well as what happened in this prequel book.
On to better pages!