The People of Sparks: Darkness cannot drive out darkness

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe People of Sparks Jeanne DuPrau reviewThe People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Lina and Doon have led their people out from the subterranean city of Ember. Now, they encounter a world full of dazzling new things like birds, sunlight, and trees. For all its wonder, Lina and Doon have not entered a world of plenty. The humans before largely destroyed the world with their weapons and their insatiable need for revenge. Doon and Lina lead the wandering Emberites in search of a new home.

Instead of a home, however, they find Sparks, a town that has finally begun to realize tentative prosperity after years of struggle. Reluctantly, Mary, Ben, and Wilbur, Sparks’ leaders, agree to provide shelter, food and training to the people of Ember. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors that led them to destroy the world. Unfortunately, Sparks does not enjoy a large surplus of food. Soon, there is hostility on both sides over how much food should be shared, what work should be done, and when the people of Ember should leave.

I enjoyed DuPrau’s The People of Sparks, though I was surprised by how strongly it differed from The City of Ember. The City of Ember is distinguished in part by its simple charm, which may stem from its subterranean setting and its optimistic and courageous heroes — or perhaps just from its comically corrupt mayor (played by Bill Murray in the film adaptation). The City of Ember’s plot follows Lina and Doon’s attempt to solve a riddle that will lead them out of the city and to the surface. The People of Sparks, however, is more like a Western. It is set in a dry, dusty, and desperate world. Its tension is driven not by complicating an inevitable escape from darkness but rather from failed attempts to prevent an inevitable fall into conflict and war. I found that I always enjoyed opening up The City of Ember because I was following Lina and Doon’s progress out of the city. The People of Sparks was a darker read: there is nowhere for the Emberites to escape to; they must find a way to make peace with — or find victory over — the people of Sparks.

Thankfully, both novels strive to communicate deep and difficult lessons to young readers, and I was once again impressed by DuPrau’s ability to explore these ideas so powerfully and insightfully in a Middle Grade novel. The People of Sparks opens with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., taken from his work, Strength to Love. It reads:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate;

only love can do that.

Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence,

and toughness multiplies toughness

in a descending spiral of destruction.

The People of Sparks is powerful because it shows just how difficult it can be to accept and follow King’s advice, especially when others ignore it. Lina and Doon are good, generous, and courageous people, but they find it difficult to resist and oppose the feelings of anger, fear, and injustice that they see around them.

DuPrau writes engaging and thoughtful stories. Although The People of Sparks is a children’s novel, I nevertheless enjoyed it. Recommended.


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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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One comment

  1. I’m going to pick these up for my daughter. Thanks, Ryan!

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