DuPrau, J. (2003). The city of Ember. New York: Random House.
Lina has lived all of her twelve years in the city of Ember and she knows, like all the other inhabitants, that there is no way out of Ember. They are surrounded by the threatening darkness of the Unknown Regions. But things are falling apart in the city, even the generator seems to be failing and surely all will be lost if it does. When Lina and her friend Doon start trying to decipher an old manuscript, they begin to suspect that there are things they don’t know about their city. Things that the leaders either don’t know or are keeping hidden from the other citizens. Can Lina and Doon find a way out? Will any of their fellow citizens believe them? What kind of world, if any, exists beyond the City of Ember?
I really like this book. The YA market is saturated with dystopian series today and yet this one doesn’t feel like a tired trend chaser. There isn’t an onslaught of Mad Max style settings. And yet, there is a clear desperation that mounts as the novel progresses. DuPrau keeps her characters brave but realistic. She sets up the mystery of the story expertly, complete with a enigmatic letter and winding, underground tunnels. She quietly raises the question of the corruption of power and the repercussions of citizens kept in the dark. She also addresses the responsibility of citizens in resisting the comfortable draw of ignorance. Once I reached the end, I couldn’t wait to find out what happens to these characters next.
Sally Estes (Booklist, Apr. 15, 2003 (Vol. 99, No. 16))
Ember, a 241-year-old, ruined domed city surrounded by a dark unknown, was built to ensure that humans would continue to exist on Earth, and the instructions for getting out have been lost and forgotten. On Assignment Day, 12-year-olds leave school and receive their lifetime job assignments. Lina Mayfleet becomes a messenger, and her friend Doon Harrow ends up in the Pipeworks beneath the city, where the failing electric generator has been ineffectually patched together. Both Lina and Doon are convinced that their survival means finding a way out of the city, and after Lina discovers pieces of the instructions, she and Doon work together to interpret the fragmented document. Life in this postholocaust city is well limned–the frequent blackouts, the food shortage, the public panic, the search for answers, and the actions of the powerful, who are taking selfish advantage of the situation. Readers will relate to Lina and Doon’s resourcefulness and courage in the face of ominous odds.
Chris Carlson (VOYA, June 2003 (Vol. 26, No. 2))
When the builders of Ember planned the underground city, they provided a storehouse of goods for the residents’ survival and a power plant to supply light to the town. Now, generations later, the supplies are dangerously low, and the lights are beginning to flicker. Ember is a socialist society, where even jobs are randomly assigned to residents. Nobody knows what lies without the walls, and everyone is too frightened to find out. Although directions on how to exit the city were entrusted to the first mayor of Ember, they were misplaced until Lina, an orphan and descendant of that mayor, finds a torn and mangled paper. Lina enlists fellow twelve-year-old Doon to aid in putting together the pieces. They are surprised to discover the missing instructions. After the teens are falsely accused of illegal activities and hunted by the police, they decide to elude capture by following the directions and leaving Ember. It will not take readers long to discover that Ember is a city-size bomb shelter and that a whole other world exists outside its walls. While Ember is colorless and dark, the book itself is rich with description. DuPrau uses the puzzle, suspenseful action, and lots of evil characters to entice readers into the story. They will find the teen characters believable and gutsy. Part mystery, part adventure story, this novel provides science fiction for those who do not like science fiction. The end of the book hints at a possible sequel.
Use in Library
A little research project about North Korea. We will learn about a place where the government has kept their citizens in the dark about what is happening in the rest of the world and the devastating effects of doing so. We can reference an excellent account of escapees from North Korea called Nothing to Envy.