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The People of Sparks (the Second Book of Ember), by Jeanne DuPrau

Updated on November 23, 2015

The tale of Lina and Doon and the other residents of Ember continues in "The People of Sparks." The Emberites emerge from the cave that contains their city into a world that they can hardly understand. This new world is too big to be believed; it is filled with plants and animals that they had never known existed before. And the air moves. The Emberites have never felt a real wind before. Perhaps a breeze when someone goes by them quickly, or maybe some air movement from the generator, but you can see what makes those happen. The wind? The forces that cause it are invisible to the naked eye. And then there is the light. The Emberites had no way to even imagine the amount of light in this new world. They have no word for the ball in the daytime sky that is too bright to look at. Neither do they have names for any of the lights in the night sky.

After walking for three days down something that certainly looks to the Emberites to be a road, running out of food along the way, they make another discovery -- aside from Lina and Doon's serendipitous discovery of plums at the end of "The City of Ember," they have no idea which of the plants can be eaten. The Emberites have lived as vegetarians, and possibly even vegans, for their whole existence; as a result, they most likely have no clue that some people eat animals. And even if they did know that they could eat the animals, they have no frame of reference for the animals of this world. Doon is familiar with bugs and other invertebrates, but things like birds and snakes are completely new even to him.

Fortunately, in their third day, they find civilization -- Sparks, a town of about 300 people. The Emberites ask the citizens of Sparks for help, since they have been walking for three days, and some of their number, including Lina's sister Poppy, are sick or injured.

The people of Sparks give the Emberites some water and food and allow all but the sickest to sleep in their central plaza. Those who are too ill to sleep on the ground are allowed to go home with one of Sparks's families. Poppy is by far the sickest, so she, Lina, and Mrs. Murdo go to stay in the home of the town doctor, Dr. Hester and her troubled nephew, Torren.

In a development that confused me, since Ember did have a doctor, Dr. Hester begins training Mrs. Murdo as a doctor, so that Sparks would have two doctors. Wouldn't they have three doctors, including the one from Ember? Some people did die in the escape from Ember. Perhaps the doctor was one of those who died. It might have been nice if DuPrau had specified this, though.

Since Mrs. Murdo is being trained as a physician, Lina, Poppy, and Mrs. Murdo continue to stay at Dr. Hester's house, much to the annoyance of Torren, who had to give up his bedroom to the newcomers. The rest of the Emberites end up being given space in an empty hotel just outside of town. The Emberites set up a garden nearby and begin to make the hotel livable.

The Emberites are put to work helping the Sparksites with the work of keeping the town going. They work in the fields and the shops and clean up the streets of the town. They also have to dig their own latrines, since Sparks doesn't have running water. The world after the Disaster has a barter economy, so they are given food in exchange for their work.

As time goes by, though, the Sparksites begin to resent the Emberites. They have struggled for years to make Sparks produce enough food for everyone, and with the addition of the Emberites, the population of Sparks has more than doubled. They fear that the Emberites will eat through all of the food that the Sparksites have set aside for emergencies, and then an emergency will come and there will be no food left.

The Emberites also resent the Sparksites. They feel that they are doing all of the dirtiest, hardest work, but are not getting enough food to fuel their bodies so that they can do the work they are supposed to do. The Emberites are always tired and hungry and their tempers are running short.

This resentment builds until it eventually reaches the breaking point.

This book is a meditation on the causes of war, in microcosm so that we can see the effects up close. DuPrau makes one decision regarding the plot that either adds to or detracts from her message, though. I will leave it to the reader to figure out what that decision is and whether it works or not.

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