The Prophet of Yonwood is much, much better than The People of Sparks, though not quite as good as The City of Ember. It is, like Sparks, definitely a juvenile book, complete with sections of fact completely brushed over. But in this book, the facts don’t matter so much. It’s the little town of Yonwood and the woman there who has the vision of a fiery future. This is supposed to be a prequel, and in some ways it is (it happens before Ember and in an epilogue-like chapter tells about events that lead up to the Disaster), but mostly, it’s not as dystopian or apocalyptic as the other two.
Nickie and her aunt Crystal travel to Yonwood to take care of the house Crystal inherited from her grandfather, who has just died. Yonwood is sort of going crazy – a woman there had a vision of the future, and since then hasn’t been right in the head. Her rambling mumblings are interpreted as instructions from God for the town, so that the town follows all sorts of bizarre and arbitrary rules, like “no singing.” There is, like in Sparks, a moral lesson in this book, though it is no where near as patently obvious from the beginning. Also, like Sparks, what happens in the town is a metaphor for what happens in the world, but again, not as simple. I couldn’t predict everything that was going to happen ahead of time. I didn’t feel like I was being talked down to so much. And I liked the moral battle that took place – at first, I wasn’t even sure exactly what Duprau was teaching. In the end, this book was a decided statement against societies run by religions and against lack of tolerance. Take the following (very heavy-handed, I admit) example from near the end of the book:
All over the world, people who believed in one truth fought against people who believed in a different truth, all of them believing theirs was the only real truth, and all of them willing to do anything – absolutely anything – to defend it.
It was a very nice message. I’m very against religion-run governments and against people thinking they have the “right” answer. I don’t personally believe in universal truth, and I see how devastating it is when people assume they are right and everyone else is wrong. Wars and bigotry and prejudice and all sorts of terrible things come out of that kind of closemindedness. And I thought DuPrau did a good job showing this on a small scale in this book, in a way kids can understand. I appreciate her frankness and honesty and purpose in writing. And beyond that, this was just an engaging narrative, with good characters and fun mysteries and such. I liked it.