Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Review: The Prophet of Yonwood

By Jeanne DuPrau. Random House, 2006. This is the third book in a series. I liked the first two books a lot. The City of Ember tells about a city underground, where people have been living in the dark as long as they can remember. In The People of Sparks two children find their way out of the cave and back up to the light. They discover that there had been a disastrous war that had destroyed most of civilization. The City of Ember, where they were born, was a community of refugees. A scattering of humans still survive above ground in the gradually recovering world. The children struggle to find their place in the new society that forms.

The Prophet of Yonwood takes place 40 years before the war that had destroyed the old world. Eleven year old Nickie is traveling to Yonwood, North Carolina with her aunt to put an old family house on the market. The terrifying possibility of a major world war looms. Nickie wants to find a way to stay in Yonwood living with both her parents, fall in love for the first time, and do something good for the world.

I didn’t enjoy Yonwood as much as I liked the first two books. I think Sparks is the best of the three. The themes of nonviolent problem-solving and finding a voice to speak for oneself are presented with depth and clarity on a level that engages kids and adults. The plot tension builds to a satisfying conclusion and the story is hopeful.

I found Yonwood to be simplistic and disappointing. The major theme is Nickie’s struggle to understand how one knows what is a good thing to do or a bad thing. On the surface of the story is the tension of whether and when the world will dissolve into World War III. The first two thirds of the book are a count-down to the president’s ultimatum with other major world powers. I kept wondering how Nickie was going to end up underground in the City of Ember. When the deadline arrives nothing happens. The president is silent, no war breaks out, and local issues in Yonwood take over the story. The town comes to a crisis over leadership and faith in an eerie silence from the White House. Nickie has a hand in solving the town’s dilemma and her life goes on.

I was frustrated and disappointed with this ending. I felt betrayed and let down. It is not until the final chapter that the writer explains how Nickie ended up in the City of Ember at the age of sixty. It makes sense in the span of the three books but it leaves the story of Yonwood feeling flat and stretched thin.

I have recommended this series to a lot of children in my library in the past two years. The ones who have read all three have enjoyed them all. No one complained about this third in the series being less exciting or interesting than the first two, so maybe it’s my adult perspective getting in the way. In any case, I would still recommend the series, especially The People of Sparks.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm I am going to email your blog to my kid sister. Her daughter Julia has the worst of both of the families. Celiac's from my Dad's side and William's syndrome from her hubby's side.

tanita✿davis said...

Perhaps because I read the novels in order, only a few months after they came out, and read The Prophet of Yonwood so much later, I felt no disconnect - rather that this was an entirely separate tale, that it was powerful and compelling and so utterly important that I would hope that many ten-eleven-twelves would read it and take from it the subtleties that DuPrau intended for her readers.

To my mind The Prophet of Yonwood is so crucially important for people, as its message is to learn not to follow, but to think. How many teens -- or adults, even -- can manage that!? The questions of how to know good v. evil, know whom to trust, know the nature of truth and faith -- those are important questions for a pre-teen. How do ideas become rules? Must all rules be blindly followed? Etc.

I'm hopeful that you will still recommend this book to smart readers who are not as sold on the Embers/Sparks cities and their characters; this is a book that can open up important dialogs between adults and adolescents.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

You are right. I didn't really cover these issues in my review, even though they are very important themes. I think kids will have really good conversations about good and evil, leadership, decision-making, and all the things you mentioned. There is a lot more going on here and I will continue to recommend the book to the kids in my library. Thanks for your comment.