Last week, I reviewed the book, City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. This YA novel focuses on the residents of the underground city of Ember, a dying city. The heroes. Lina and Doon, find a way to save their people, if not their city. I enjoyed it. The setting was intriguing, the action was well paced, and the characters were relateable and well-written. What I thought were lacking were more global, sophisticated themes that would appeal equally to adults, a la The Giver by Lois Lowry.
Then I read The People of Sparks, and it all became clear to me. The People of Sparks picks up where City of Ember leaves off, with the Emberites traveling through the open landscape looking for other people. They finally stumble upon a village of 300 people called Sparks. The 400 survivors of the city of Ember are taken in by the residents of Sparks, who are themselves survivors (and the descendants of survivors) of devastating wars and plagues that swept across the globe, resulting in the loss of most of humankind. The generosity of the villagers is tested as food and supplies become more scarce. Acts of vandalism and graffiti contribute to an increasingly tense atmosphere, until it seems that violence is sure to erupt. Finally, there is a showdown that will determine the future of each group, villagers and Emberites alike.
This novel is a story about immigration, and xenophobia, and war, and fear, and greed. The villagers of Sparks act in a way that I suspect most of us would like to think we would in a similar position-when confronted with people in need they were generous and caring. But as time goes on, and resources become more scarce (or are perceived to be more scarce, which amounts to the same thing), the people of Sparks and the Emberites are increasingly at odds. The Emberites know that they are reliant on the villagers for support, which causes resentment. The villagers are increasingly afraid that after years of struggle, their relative comfort is threatened by the newcomers. Sound like the current immigration debate to anyone else? The leaders of each group make up stories about the "others" to incite fear and anger in order to justify starting a war. Sound at all like the lead up to Iraq, hm? This novel is one long lesson in the absurdity of xenophobia and war. Easy enough for middle grade readers to understand, substantive enough to be interesting to adult readers, The People of Sparks is the meat and potatoes to City of Ember's appetizer. I can't wait to see if the last book in the series, The Diamond of Darkhold, is a scrumptious desert, or if I'll leave the table hungry.