August 09, 2006

DuPrau: If Readers Can Learn Tolerance...

It's not often that I give books such panegyrics, but consider me standing on my chair, cheering and screaming for Jeanne DuPrau's The Prophet of Yonwood. If readers take away just one lesson from this novel, I hope it is an understanding of intolerance, and the trouble and pain it can cause when official people try to make up rules for everyone about people's private beliefs.

Many times, so-called 'prequels' are just a rehashing of a novel's storyline with a few added tidbits to make it seem new and interesting. Not so with this novel. It is set in modern times, and includes an entirely new cast of characters, each with normal feelings and goals... that get sadly out of sync.

Nickie is eleven, and has three things she wants to do in her life. One, she wants to convince her mother and her Aunt Crystal to keep her grandfather's house, Greenhaven, in Yonwood, North Carolina. It sounds so peaceful, the word 'haven,' and Nickie is sure that Yonwood is a much, much better place than dirty, crime-ridden Philadelphia where she's been. Back home in Philly, Nickie is distracted and scared. The Crisis is on the television news every day, every hour, and all the president seems to say to everyone is "Pray! Pray! It will all get better, we have God on our side." The rumblings of war have taken Nickie's father away to work on a secret government job at an undisclosed location, and Nickie's mother is scared and overworked. If they could find a haven, maybe everything would be all right.

Nickie's second goal is to fall in love. Since she's eleven, she feels it's time. In Yonwood, there are boys, and the first one she meets seems a likely enough candidate...

Finally, Nickie simply wants to help the world. She is interested in everything and everyone, and she hopes that she can simply use her own interest to somehow... help. People shouldn't be worried about war all the time. People should be happier. Yonwood is a place where it seems all of that can happen.

But Nickie, as it turns out, has come to Yonwood at a strange time. A woman named Althea has had a vision, which her best friend, Brenda, has interpreted to be straight from the mouth of God. Now Brenda is telling everyone in Yonwood what to do to be holy and good and safe -- safe from the end of the world and the terrors that are about to come from the Crisis. People in Yonwood are divided -- some people are so afraid that they are willing to do anything at all in order to escape the coming troubles. Anything. Even spy on their neighbors. Some people don't believe that Brenda is right, and there is a showdown on its way. Is there anything that can help? Anything that will stop the madness or the war?

DuPrau has created a believable, dramatic, futuristic dystopian novel which only is the icing on top of the Ember stories it precedes. Portraying a realistic vision of a society of hysterical religiosity and technical addiction, DuPrau almost satirizes our current world. (Residents of Yonwood are glued to their DATT sets for up to the minute news and announcements from the God-fearing president- DATT standing for Do A Thousand Things, which the "phone" does.) An excellent and timely look at what it means to love your neighbor for real.


a. fortis said...

Oh, wow, I can't wait to read it! I loved the Ember books.

tanita s. davis said...

I am seriously on a mission to buy this one and donate it to small libraries. SERIOUSLY timely, good stuff.