Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Thursday, April 12, 2012

Plot Summary:
241 years ago, the Builders created Ember for its inhabitants to live and thrive underground. Before the people of Ember came to live in this dwelling, the Builders projected that the people will live in Ember for at least 220 years. Despite their assurance that the City of Ember will survive, they have left instructions for future leaders that will provide guidelines in case Ember is unable to sustain life. Decade after decade, these instructions (encased in a time locked box) where passed to the newest incumbent. However, when the seventh mayor came into office, he took the box hoping it would contain the cure to his health problems; however, before he could return the box, he died and the box was lost. It is now year 241 and Ember is experiencing significant problems. Ember is dependent on the generator and river that produces the electricity for every light in the City; when the lights flicker, or go out, the people are covered in darkness. For Lina Mayfleet, this darkness scares her. After graduating from school, Lina is now working as a messenger. After losing her parents to a great sickness, Lina is in charge, and is the sole supporter, of her little sister, Poppy, and her absent-minded grandmother. After a few days on the job, Lina is noticing that Ember is not functioning properly. In fact, her classmate, Doon, knows this to be a fact because, unlike his classmates, he wants to work in the Pipeworks factory, which is located deep into the Earth. As the black outs become more frequent, the people start to panic and they have lost total faith in the Mayor and the government. For Lina, she has been able to keep her feelings hidden deep inside until her grandmother starts tearing apart the house for an item that was lost long ago.One night, Lina finds that Poppy is chewing on a piece of paper that contains a partial message with unique handwriting. As Lina grabs the mutilated paper, she notices that they are instructions and she sees the box that it came in.  After enlisting the help of several acquaintances to decipher the message, the only one who can help her is Doon and, unfortunately, they are not on speaking terms because of an incident long ago. Could these instructions, and Doon, be the way out of Ember?

Critical Evaluation:
Jeanne DuPrau has created a world that is unlike any other world we know. Long ago, people were sent underground to build a civilization that has no history of its past. Although readers don't know why the people have gone underground, they can clearly tell that something awful must have occurred on the surface. However, what is strange about this world is that the authorities, or The Builders, have decided to keep silent about the fact that Ember has an expiration date. Like most governments, Ember has a lot of secrets, which is not only unsettling, but makes readers wonder why they haven't gone the extra lengths to ensure Ember's success; moreover, the Builders left the instructions to Ember's survival on a fragile piece of paper, stashed away into a time locked box. This introduction exists only on three pages so readers are well aware that something awful is going to happen, which is going to keep them reading, hoping for an answer. Through the eyes of Lina and Doon, we not only see the disparity between the government and the people, we see how run down and ragged the world is. Without the lights, Ember is encased in darkness that not only strikes fear into the populace, but it reminds them that time maybe running out. However, Lina and Doon's courage is what gives us, the readers, hope that things could change because of their determination to find the answers to the unsolved riddle, which could lead to their survival. City of Ember is the first installment of an amazing adventure and readers will be clamoring for the next chapters of Lina and Doon's journey.

Information about the Author:
According to her website, Jeanne DuPrau was born in San Francisco in 1944. She is a native Californian and attended Scripps College in Claremont, California where she earned her BA in English Literature. She then lived in New York foe some time, but returned to California. She has had several occupation including: teaching, technical writing, editing, etc. According to DuPrau:
I didn't really set out to “be a writer.” I just wrote. Reading and writing have always been my favorite things, though for a while I wanted to be a writer and an illustrator. I still have my very first book, which I wrote when I was about five years old. It's called Frosty the Snowman, has six pages, and is illustrated with red and green crayon. Outside my work life, I've been an ice skater, a bird watcher, a mediator, a house builder, a gardener, a piano player, and a gourmet vegetarian cook.
Jeanne currently has five books in print: The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, The Diamond of Darkhold, and Car Trouble.

Tween Fantasy

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 4-6

Books Similar to City of Ember:
Awards & Recognition:
  • Kirkus Review Starred Review (5/13/2003)
  • Publisher's Weekly Starred Review (3/10/2003)

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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