Book review

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau (2004)

Have you got any new immigrant children in your class at school or in your local area? And are you friends with them or do you find it difficult to mix? Actually, it's quite hard when strangers suddenly come to live in your midst. They might not speak your language, they might not look like you, and they might not do things the way you do them.

That's how it is in this story. The people of Sparks have come through some difficult times and life is just beginning to get a bit easier for them. They have comfortable homes now and can grow enough food in the summer to last them through the winter. Then one day hundreds of strangers arrive in the village out of nowhere. They are the people of Ember. The Emberites have nothing and they don't know how to provide for themselves. They look to the people of Sparks for help, to feed them and give them shelter.

Actually, there are more strangers than there are locals, so you might imagine what a burden this is for them. Although the people of Sparks start off with good intentions and agree to feed the Emberites, there comes a time when difficult choices have to be made:

'...We're doing the best we can with what has been asked of us. And I must say, a great deal has been asked. Suddenly we're supposed to feed twice as many people as before! More than twice as many!' He glared at the Emberites, shifting his eyes to each one in turn. 'And yet we do not have twice as much food as we did before. It's true that each family is being given a little extra from the storehouse for this emergency. But not much. Sparks village just does not have enough for four hundred extra people. Are we supposed to feed you instead of our own families? Why should we? Who are you, anyway, you strangers from some city no one's ever heard of?'
By the end of this speech, Ordney's face was a deep red and his voice was shaking with rage.
Doon felt frozen. All he could think was, He's right. Of course he's right. But we're right, too.

Somehow out of all the discord and hatred, violence even, the people of Sparks and the people of Ember must work out how to live together. I bet you find yourself agreeing with the arguments from both sides. I know I did.

With this book, you also get a lively tale of exploration and pioneering, leadership and individual responsibility, friendship and loyalty. Great read! I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Highly recommended.

What can I read next?

The People of Sparks is a sequel. It's better if you read the other book first:

If you are interested in refugees, and the problems that they face, you might like to look at this story by Leon Rosselson:

Or this extraordinary series by Deborah Ellis:

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