Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Prophet of Yonwood, Jeanne DuPrau
To be honest, I was not as crazy about this book as I was about the other two. Props to the author for making her narrators, Nickie and Grover quite different in feel to Lina and Doon, although the characters do have some paralells (Nickie and Lina both are VERY curious people and quite concerned with being able to know right from wrong).
As I said in my last post, I wasn't quite sure where the author was going with the topic of religion and God. After the fact, I think she did all right not overtly criticizing any specific belief set. But I'm wondering if the author herself has a personal belief in a God or not.
In Yonwood, North Carolina, Nickie spends a few weeks with her aunt Crystal at her great-grandfather's estate whom Crystal and Nickie's mother, Rachel, inherited. The idea is to fix up the estate and sell it, splitting the profit for inheritance. One thing I absolutely LOVED about this book is the feeling that Nickie gets in her need to know who her Great-Grandfather was and who the people who used to live with were and her intense curiosity to know their stories. She finds a notebook that belonged to her Great-grandfather with notes in it in his final lucid days before his passing.
I couldn't quite tell what year it was supposed to be. There was an insane amount of technology, everyone had a DATT phone device, Do A Thousand Things, which is reminiscent of a smart phone, yet the President of the United States repeatedly tells the people to "Pray to God for our cause" to paraphrase it. Certainly that doesn't jive with the leadership since such technology, with separation of Church and State and all. Nickie wonders a LOT about God, because what if your enemies were also praying to God? Were there many God's? Was there a "right" God? How would you know? There was an instance where the Phalanx Nations (the enemy to the US) held hostages and wouldn't let them go unless they converted to the "true faith" whatever that may be (it made me think of early Christian Crusades or present day demands of Islamic Extremists). The "Prophet" is a woman-Althea Towers-who out of the blue had a vision of mass destruction where everything on Earth was obliterated with fire and war. One lady, Mrs. Beeson decided the vision was from God, and because Althea was so incredibly shocked by her vision she was altogether mentally unwell. Mrs. Beeson has become "interpreter" for what Althea says and calls her a Prophet and tells the town that they have been blessed to have a Prophet in her midst and if they do what she says, and love God, they will be all right. Now, I'm a religious person and in the Bible it does teach that if you serve God you have no need to fear. But in this book, the people interpreted that to mean that there MIGHT be a war, but THEY wouldn't be affected by it. In MY religion's interpretation it means that regardless of what DOES happen to you on Earth (and it could be bad) if you live a good life, you don't need to fear death.
The other thing was that so many people, while worried about conflict, were very self absorbed, as if they were too tired, too busy, or too distracted to think of war as something that might actually happen to THEM. I wonder if that was meant to signify how self-absorbed we've become? I mean, there was a volcanic eruption somewhere and we have pictures of it because people who saw it happen were taking pictures and tweeting them instead of getting the H-E-double hockey sticks away from a dangerous situation!
Towards the end I was getting very confused and impatient to get to HOW this story connected to the City of Ember. I had some notions, but they were not addressed until the final chapter. So don't expect answers to come in bits and pieces-it all comes out in the end.
Nickie grapples with right and wrong. Is a certain thing wrong in and of itself, or only wrong up to a certain age? If you don't feel good about something, does that mean that it's wrong? Does that make a person a sinner? How do you tell good from bad? These are definitely good conversation points to have with a middle reader.
One thing I didn't like was the suggestion that people's faith is blind. Of course, for some people it is, and that kind of faith can be dangerous. As it states a couple times, when you believe in something so much, you are willing to do anything, ANYTHING, for that belief. We have seen that in many different ways. But it felt like the book was suggesting that ALL faith was like that. When things go back to "normal" in one area, they "go back to following regular laws made by people rather than commands that might or might not come from God." Another thing was a bit unsure about was that as part of the plot, Mrs. Beeson has asked people to "give up" certain things (giving things up in the name of a greater cause makes you feel strong-and while it had the slight feeling of mockery in the story, I don't feel it's bad to give up a vice for something better. I mean, there's Ramadan and Lent and other things that aren't fanatical in religions that required a sacrifice of some sort and it can make a person better, not just a lemming) and one character gives up romance books. Nickie (who has 3 goals at age 11, one of which is to fall in love) gets curious (as she does about EVERYTHING) picks up one of those books and there are a couple excerpts out of them. Nothing is explicit in the "excerpts" but I worry slightly that since those parts "weren't that bad" or give it that appeal that it was something someone had to "give up" in order to be good, that some young reader will unsuspectingly pick up an actual romance novel and be exposed to things a young reader REALLY shouldn't be exposed to.
In this story, war is averted, but really it's just postponed. The root of the conflict was that people could not co-exist along side each other and live different belief systems. Each side insisted that their faith was the ONLY right one and that it had to be enforced by force. It seems to me, that if there's a lesson to be learned from this book, it could be found in the 11th Article of Faith from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: "We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscious and allow all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where or what they may." We feel strongly that we need to tell everyone about our beliefs and our faith, in order that everyone has the chance to make a educated decision on whether to accept or reject it, but we do NOT believe in force. In fact, at the very root of our religion is the ability to have Agency to choose for ourselves. But we DO have religious extremists who are bent on exterminating anyone who believes differently from them and refuses to convert. And one cause of destruction is not just war, but that as a result of this behavior and mind set, diseases that had never before been seen or diseases that used to be isolated are now cropping up and spreading globally. This book was published in 2006.
The people of Yonwood were obsessed with being good, creating a "shield of good" to protect them. It is not enough to just be good. You have to look for real solutions to conflict as well. The more we can teach our kids about conflict resolution, the better. The more we can teach that people can live peaceable lives side by side while believing different things, the better. And teach that people who are "different" can still be "good" people. And teach that there are so, SO many things on this Earth to spend your time and effort on that could benefit ALL of mankind, we don't need to be caught up in petty differences or things of little consequence. Some things matter and some things don't. Learn how to tell the difference!