Friday, January 23, 2015

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, 2003

Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness….
But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them?

(270 pages)

Forget The Hunger Games or Divergent, The City of Ember is my favorite dystopian!

I'm not joking. I don't even like either of those series, but I love The City of Ember. It's a unique story set in a city underground - a city running out of power as the generator that runs everything is slowly breaking down. Lina discovers a piece of paper left by the Builders (the mysterious people who built Ember) to be handed down through the years. It has been forgotten in a messy closet in Lina's house, and Lina's sister Poppy chews the paper up before Lina gets a chance to look at it. Lina enlists the help of her friend Doon to help her decipher what she believes is their key to saving the city - and before they know it, they're in far over their heads.

I normally talk about characters before I mention setting (if I even have room for it at all), but this time I have to focus on the setting first: it is phenomenal. The grungy streets, the way Lina cherishes a couple of colored pencils and a can of pineapples, the shortage of light bulbs, the total fear when the city lights flicker and the city plunges into blackness . . . all blend together perfectly to create this atmosphere of decrepitude. The city is failing. The people of Ember are running out of everything. People know that someday the generator might stop and never turn back on again, leaving the city in complete darkness forever.

Lina is an imaginative, good-natured girl who doesn't even like thinking about the blackouts. Her parents are dead and she lives with her increasingly dotty grandmother and her sweet but troublesome baby sister Poppy whose major contribution to the story is her almost complete destruction of the valuable paper via chewing. Lina is essentially the adult figure in her home, which makes her quite independent.

Where Lina is sweet and has her head in the clouds (well, in what would have been the clouds if she actually lived above the earth), Doon is a realist. He knows something is wrong with the city, and from the first he is determined to do something about it. Throughout the book he struggles to master both his temper and his pride, making him a realistic and relatable character.

If this interests you at all, then read it! I guarantee your library will have it. If you know any kids who are desperate to jump on the dystopian bandwagon but aren't allowed to read the popular dystopians, then send this their way. There's even a movie adaptation to go with it!

Note: If you've already ready The City of Ember, click here to check out my review of the second book in the series, The People of Sparks.

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