I read the book in twenty-four hours. Then I sat down to review it.
As a reader, I really liked DuPrau's continuation of the Ember series. As a parent, I have trouble with this as a young reader book. I may need to reconsider my definition of "young reader" but I will leave that topic for another post. Suffice it to say, I will not be reading this book to my six-year old son anytime in the next two to three years.
Post-apocalyptic stories have fascinated me since junior high. I am continually intrigued by how an author envisions the future. DuPrau has done a good job: Lina finds a Monopoly game and a magnifying glass, characters use "wagon-trucks" (old trucks with their engines removed) as oxen-pulled vehicles. The world above ground has no electricity, in contrast to the Ember world of the previous book which had electricity but no trees or animals.
The main story in the book revolves around the intersection of these two societies as they try to work together to move forward. However, it is exactly this post-apocalyptic theme that disturbs me given that this is a children's book. I am uncomfortable explaining to my son why a bunch of characters die in the first twenty pages or why war is a recurring theme in the story.
In addition, DuPrau has a limited space to tell her story. She does a good job of continuing to flesh out her characters. She delves into moral questions that are appropriate for a young reader to consider. But, because she is constrained by page count, the book feels very heavy and very dark throughout. DuPrau does not take enough time to stop and smell the flowers, literally. I would have liked a bit more character exploration of this brand-new world full of flowers, trees, birds, and bugs.
Would I recommend this book, yes. But with reservations. Some kids could handle it. Others I think would have trouble reconciling the debates. I could read the book in 24 hours but spending a week or two going through the story it would have felt very heavy.
If you liked The People of Sparks /post-apocalyptic books (and you're an adult) I would recommend: