Thursday, January 12, 2006

Escaping From Ember

So here's some more about my trip:

Since I can't read and drive at the same time, I decided to bring an audio version of a kids' book so I could multi-task. I chose The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau because I've heard about it on-line, and because I probably wouldn't have read it myself because I thought it was about a dystopian fantasy world. I've already read a couple of those in the last year, and I figure that's about as much as I can take for a while.

Well, I was right. The City of Ember is about one of those societies that's controlled and no one in it knows what end is up. I find those cultures very stagnant and noncreative. Come on. In a couple of hundred years no one thought of trying to create a flashlight or a match? The best form of communication they could come up with was hiring people to run from one end of the city to the other with messages? And accepting twelve-year-old main characters required a suspension of disbelief that I wasn't entirely willing to buy into.

I did think the book was well-written, though, and DuPrau does something interesting with point-of-view. I didn't notice it until toward the end of the book. (Remember, I was listening to it, not reading it.) The book was written in the third person with the point-of-view switching between the two main characters. Every time the point-of-view switched, the author backtracked a little bit so that we saw what had been happening recently with the other character. I'm very self-conscious about point-of-view problems, and I thought that was a neat device.

The book also involves a mystery of sorts and a puzzle that these two kids have to work out. As far as that aspect of the story is concerned, it was far, far superior to, say, Chasing Vermeer, which also involved two kids who had to work out a puzzle to solve a mystery.

Nonetheless, I wasn't crazy about the book, but I wasn't the only person in the car. After the first CD, I was willing to turn it off for a while because I didn't want to force the book on the other traveler. Not to worry. He was very taken with the story, and fed CDs into the player as fast as it would take them.

Now, he's an engineer and the City of Ember involves engineering problems--a generator that keeps failing and pipes that keep springing leaks. (Not my idea of compelling subject matter, but this guy ate it up.) He's so involved with the story that he's going to look for the audio version of the sequel, The People of Sparks, for a daytrip we're taking this weekend.

My fellow traveler had a terrific insight about this book. He said, "You know, this book didn't have to be about twelve-year-olds. The main characters could just as easily have been recent college graduates instead of just getting out of (what we would call) sixth grade and that would have made the story more believable."

He was right. The book could easily have worked as an adult novel, an adult movie script.

This raises a question for me: What is a children's book? Is it merely a book with child protagonists? Does there have to be something else that makes the book a children's book?

Really, I just had an incredibly terrific trip this past weekend.

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