This article originally appeared on nypl.org on August 1, 2011:
Sci-Fi Summer: Light Up the Darkness with the Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Any child growing up knows that change is a difficult thing, but what if those changes included evacuating your dark city and the only home you’ve ever known? Taking refuge a struggling town that gets by on the artifacts of a long-lost world? A radical group taking away your rights to sing or even keep a dog? These and more are the challenges faced by the young protagonists of Jeanne DuPrau’s tetralogy, the Books of Ember. In these four books, children and young adults alike can be engaged and enthralled by the adventures and mysteries of Lina Mayfleet, her best friend Doon Harrow, and their efforts to save their people.
Book 1: The City of Ember
The first installment finds the titular city inching dangerously closer to the end of its days. The generator that powers the city, and keeps back the total darkness that surrounds it, is beginning to fail. Blackouts are longer and more frequent and food supplies are starting to run short. One day, Lina discovers the remains of an important document in her house that was once passed down through the mayors of Ember. Together with Doon, the two friends might just find a way to escape their beloved but dying city.
Book 2: The People of Sparks
In relocating to the town of Sparks, the people of Ember must adjust to not only a new place, but a new way of life. Having no electricity, Sparks thrives on the relics of the past while trading with refuse-laden wanderers who collect bits and bobs from old abandoned cities. Having enough troubles just supporting themselves, the locals are rather divided on how to accept the newcomers who have arrived en masse and plan to stay for a while. As resources become strained, tensions mount between the people of Sparks and the Emberites as a steady buildup of problems hinders their ability to co-exist peacefully as one community.
Book 3: The Prophet of Yonwood
Winding back the clock a few centuries, this prequel shows us the world as we know it now, or may know it in the near future. Amidst the threat of war, a girl named Nickie and her aunt are spending the summer in the town of Yonwood, North Carolina, while Nickie’s parents are busy with their own work. Yonwood has recently undergone a transformation after one of its residents, Althea Tower, experienced a vision of the apocalypse which is interpreted by the local church as a message from God. As Althea’s semi-comatose mutterings are used to frame new restrictive laws in the town, Nickie tries to fit in while making some new and eccentric friends. There’s also the matter of trying to solve the mysterious puzzle in the cryptic postcards sent by her father…
Book 4: The Diamond of Darkhold
Winter closes in on Sparks and Lina and Doon begin to wonder if the remains of Ember might hold the supplies they need to get the inflated town through this troubling time. When a roamer arrives with the remains of a book entitled “For the People of Ember,” they know they must go back. Venturing out on their own, they learn of a legendary jewel that may tie to the book and return to Ember to find that the jewel has been located. Unfortunately, the people who found it have no intention of returning it to its rightful owners. This solid conclusion lays the groundwork for not just the future of Sparks and the people of Ember, but for the whole world.