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'The City of Ember'     Send a link to a friend

[JUNE 16, 2004]  "The City of Ember," by Jeanne DuPrau. Random House, 2003, 270 pages.

Review by Linda Harmon

The city of Ember is an underground world where supplies are running out. The only light in the city comes from large flood lamps mounted on buildings and poles throughout the city. The lights are turned on at six in the morning and turned off at nine o'clock at night. Power outages are becoming more frequent and lasting longer. When the lights are off the inhabitants are in total darkness.

The city was created by a group of people known as "The Builders" after some sort of apocalyptic event. The Builders decided that for safety reasons the inhabitants should not leave the city for at least 200 or 220 years. Knowing that the inhabitants wouldn't know what to do when the time came to leave, they created a set of instructions for them. The instructions were put in a special wooden box equipped with a lock timed to open on a certain date. The box would be entrusted to the mayor of the city and hidden in the basement of the Gathering Hall. It would be passed on to new mayors as they came into office but none of them would know the contents of the box until it was opened.

The first six mayors took care of the special box, but the seventh mayor was not as trustworthy as the rest; he took the box home and tried to open it. This mayor suffered from a lung illness that was common at the time, and he thought the box might contain something that would heal him. When he was unsuccessful in opening the box, he threw it in the back of his closet at home under a pile of junk. Year after year the box remained in the closet unnoticed until one day it quietly opened.


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The story opens on Assignment Day in the year 241. The children of Ember go to school only until they are 12 years old and upon their graduation are given work assignments. The mayor assigns the jobs, and they will have them as long as they are able to work.

Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow are graduating from school and ready to enter the work force. Lina hopes her assignment will be as a messenger because she loves to run and explore the city. Doon wants to work in the underground Pipeworks because he thinks he can find a way to save the city. After the ceremony they discover that each one got the job the other one wanted, and they decide to trade.

Lina lives with her grandmother and baby sister, Poppy. She loves her new job but soon discovers that things are not as the city government officials would have them believe. Doon discovers that the mayor has been hoarding food and supplies and that the governmental corruption doesn't stop with him.

Lina's grandmother accidentally uncovers the ancient box with the instructions for leaving Ember. Lina tells Doon about the box, and the two decide it is up to them to find the way out and save the people of Ember.

When the mayor finds out that they know what he is doing, he sends the guards to find and arrest them. Lina and Doon must flee and use the instructions to find the way out of the city.

This is an exciting story with a cliffhanger ending. The main characters are likable and believable. This is a first novel for Jeanne DuPrau, and she is already working on the sequel. The book is recommended for ages 9 to 13.

[Linda Harmon, Lincoln Public Library District]

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