Friday, October 1, 2010

Returning to Ember

It's time once again to give the lowdown on some books I've been reading. For quite some time now, I've been on a huge Middle Grade fiction kick. Perhaps because it's what I've been most inspired to write lately, or perhaps I'm more inspired to write it because I've been reading it. That's not for me to figure out...I'll leave that to the scholars who are sure to study my madness in distant future. And speaking of the distant future, I've decided to share my thoughts on the final two Books of Ember. (I reviewed the first two books already and you can see my review here). This has been one of my favorite collection of books of the last decade, so I encourage everybody to read them if you haven't already. But here are my thoughts on the individual titles.

The Prophet of Yonwood - Jeanne DuPrau

Except for the last few paragraphs, this doesn't really feel like "the third Book Of Ember" as the title suggests. It seems a lot of readers were turned off by that, hoping to read more about Lina and Doon, or even about Ember itself. And though I also would've enjoyed that, it didn't bother me or take away from my appreciation for this story for what it least, it nearly didn't.

Set in the near-modern day, this story carries through the themes of right and wrong that make the first two books so powerful. DuPrau's strength as a writer is her ability to show how influences work on characters and how sometimes small incidents shape a character's actions. This is excellently handled with Nickie, the main character in this book. We see how easily it is for her to get caught up in the strange brand of righteousness brewing in the sleepy town of Yonwood.

Is the message in the book a little heavy-handed? Yes. This is such an obvious metaphor for post 9/11 America. But given that the book is speaking to a generation raised in that era, the story needs to be direct. This idea of making up your own mind about God, sin, and the right thing to do and questioning the dictates of authority, is a very difficult subject and one that the target audience for this book is just beginning to think about. In that way, I think it was handled very effectively. One line spoken by Grover sums it up nicely:

"You should think about what’s the right thing to do. Not just take someone’s word for it.”

This is a well-written story and I felt really attached to the characters. I did feel like it was a stretch trying to tie it in the authors previously successful series. The connection between Yonwood and Ember is very thin. I think I would've loved the book more without any connection because as soon as Ember is mentioned, I immediately wished this had been a story of Nickie wondering through a newly built, un-populated Ember as her dad and the other Builders were constructing it. I know it's a little unfair to grade the book based on this, but in a way, it's asking for it with that somewhat misleading "the third book of Ember" on the cover.

The Diamond of Darkhold - Jeanne DuPrau

After the third book took a big departure from the story and characters in the first two books of Ember, DuPrau returns to the familiar characters Lina and Doon in the fourth installment. I knew while reading the third book that I missed these two, but didn't realize just how much until I encountered them again. Both characters feel very genuine and the interaction within their friendship makes for great reading. The story hearkens back to the first book quite a bit, creating a parallel plot that works well for completing the larger story of the people from the Underground City of Ember.

As with the other stories, The Diamond of Darkhold explores powerful themes for young readers such as fairness, compassion, and the value of intellectual curiosity. I also liked the twist at the end, which helps to further tie in the story of the third book. All in all, a splendid four book series and one I hope is read for many generations.

I also enjoyed how did make an effort (once again in the last few paragraphs) to tie-in Yonwood. This connection, which I won't give away, doesn't necessarily enrich the story but it does add a nice new dimension to the books and leaves the reader with something to think about. It places the series in a larger context and I love endings like that.

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