Book Review: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

A middle grade mystery/adventure, The City of Ember follows Lina and Doon, two children who live in an underground city called Ember. Throughout the story, things in Ember are bleak—and getting bleaker. There are huge storerooms full of supplies like canned goods and lightbulbs, but those are depleting rapidly. Stores are only open on certain days of the week, and they often close early because they have nothing to sell. It’s clear that Ember is a dying city: there is nothing being produced.

Throughout the course of the story, Lina and Doon are assigned their jobs—messenger for the city and worker in the pipeworks. At the same time, Lina discovers a mysterious note hidden in her ailing grandmother’s supplies. Lina and Doon work to find allies and expose the mayor and others who are hoarding supplies. But more important than that, they have to solve a mystery that could lead the people of Ember out of the dying city.

The problem is that everything in the city seems designed to prohibit critical thinking skills and discourage curiosity. Jobs are assigned; workers take shortcuts to find time to play silly games or gossip; no books exist, only things written by residents of Ember who have no clue what they are really talking about. Moreover, everyone is more concerned about the frequent blackouts than finding out what the actual problem is. By the end of the story, many citizens are left cowering in their homes.

The book is meant for middle grade readers, so some of the clues are repeated, but this is just the sort of book I would have loved in elementary and early middle school. The tension in the book continues to be strong throughout, making it a page turner. It’s the first in a series, and I could definitely see young readers pestering their parents to acquire a copy of the next book in the series as soon as possible!

All in all, a fun read.