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The Prophet of Yonwood    by Jeanne DuPrau order for
Prophet of Yonwood
by Jeanne DuPrau
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Prophet of Yonwood is a prequel to The City of Ember and The People of Sparks. Its events occur fifty years before Ember is settled, with the world in turmoil. People anxiously watch their TV sets, listening to the President expound on the Crisis in relations with the Phalanx Nations, the prospect of war, and the danger from terrorists.

Eleven-year-old Nickie Randolph accompanies her aunt Crystal to Yonwood, North Carolina, not knowing that the town has succumbed to the terrible vision of one of its members, timid Althea Tower. After she saw - in a waking dream - an earth that 'boiled with flames and black smoke', townsfolk named Althea the Prophet and a select few (in particular Brenda Beeson) have taken charge of eradicating sin from their community in an attempt to do 'God's work' and save the town from the expected disaster.

Nickie's great-grandfather has died and left his mansion to Nickie's mother (who can't leave her job in Philadelphia) and Aunt Crystal, who plans to sell it. Nickie has set herself three goals - to keep the house from being sold, to fall in love, and to 'do something helpful for the world'. While her aunt is busy preparing the house for sale, Nickie hides a small dog on the third floor, and attempts to help Mrs. Beeson by spying on sinful people - including an intelligent boy, Grover, who keeps snakes as pets.

Nickie's actions have consequences that she never expected, creating a 'storm in her mind'. As she comes to regret following Brenda Beeson's interpretation of God's will, Nickie starts to wonder if 'people thought they were hearing God speak when really they were hearing something else.' She confronts the Prophet, and succeeds in meeting all three objectives that she set herself - though not in an obvious way. Later in life, Nickie faces the reality of Althea's vision, and is asked to enter the underground city her father helped build.

Though I haven't read the other two books in the series, this prequel stands well on its own as a timely warning against the kind of actions that fear drives people to take against those who are in any way different, and against believing that one's own truth is the only real truth. Its relevance to today's world makes The Prophet of Yonwood an excellent choice for peer, classroom and family discussion.

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