Plot descriptions have already been done, so I'll offer my commentary.
The (barely) three page prologue sets a splendid dramatic tension for the story. We know that something is afoot, that there is more to Ember than Ember, and that empowers us, to a certain extent - like when you're watching a movie and you know something that the characters don't.
We see the development of this through the eyes of two twelve year olds, both very different children. Doon has a temper and is rather sullen, and Lina is a bundle of hope and joy. But their depth goes beyond that. These are three-dimensional characters, a rarity in children's books.
Also rare is the sturdy, clear writing. It never felt rushed, always felt poised. The only thing that wasn't handled with perfection was humor. I should have laughed when Doon threw a shoe heel and it hit his father in the ear, but I didn't. But that's OK. Eoin Colfer can be funny, and Ms. DuPrau can simply be a better writer.
I found a few plot points strained: 1) Lina being the great-great-great whatever of one of the mayor's mentioned in the prologue; 2) Her own grandmother's mad search for something that now, in her dotage, she remembers is of the utmost importance; and 3) Poppy getting her hands on the thing that is important and rendering it nearly indecipherable.
But those are minor points. They exist to move the story from one point to another, and the story isn't really about the discovery of the Instructions for Egress, it's about the city of Ember itself, how its inhabitants have adjusted to living in a city where there is no light after nine (because the only light the city has is electricity and it knows nothing of the Sun), deciphering the Instructions for Egress, and the action of egress itself. I felt that the city of Ember, with its surprisingly complex social order was an ingenious invention, and the handling of all other points mentioned above was done masterfully.
When I finished reading this I couldn't help but think to myself: what a shame that more children will have read Shadowmancer than The City of Ember. The latter is a far superior book, in every way.
I found myself, more than once, wanting to walk the streets of Ember, just to see what it felt like. Ms. DuPrau did a terrific job of making this imaginative city real and tangible.
on September 11, 2003
The city of Ember is in trouble, but the complacent citizens seem to ignore the food shortages and frequent blackouts. The Builders, when they created the city some 241 years ago, made provisions for its citizens in the form of a note called "The Instructions." Unfortunately, The Instructions were not handed down through the generations as they were supposed to be, and suddenly 12-year old Lina, a city Messenger, has discovered them. After trying to tell her friends and even the Mayor about the discovery of the partially destroyed Instructions, Lina turns to a one-time school friend, Doon, a worker in the underground Pipeworks, whom she believes will understand their importance. But what can two children do with such important information, and who would even believe them?
The City of Ember is a clever novel which tells the unique story of two unintentional heroes who fight the status quo in order to bring hope to their city. The descriptions of the world of Ember are fascinating, leaving the reader to appreciate the incredible imagination of first-time novelist Jeanne DuPrau. The narrator thoughtfully informs us of the setting-the unusual and self-contained world of Ember-slowly throughout the novel, and not all at once in the first chapter. It's only in chapter 8 that we even realize that there are no animals in Ember and the words "heaven" and "boat" have no known meaning. The characters are outstandingly original yet touchingly familiar in their pre-pubescent views of the adult world. The deaths of Lina's parents and then custodial grandmother create a sympathy for her that causes us to, all the more, wish for her triumph. It is the curiosity of Lina and Doon that drive this narrative, and it is the nice balance between primary and secondary characters that keeps the reader on his/her toes. While we expect a happy ending, it's not until the final pages of the novel that we understand what has happened and why. And, as always, we forgive a good author for the blatant suggestions of a sequel.
on March 5, 2004
I read this book straight through in one sitting, because I simply couldn't put it down. It was quite simply one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read - I place it in the ranks of Pullman's His Dark Materials.
Its deceptively simple writing style builds a vivid world around you as you read, and hurtles you headlong into the story - and promptly embeds the characters inextricably in your heart. The main character, Lina, is as beguiling as they come - spirited, determined, and far, far too nosy. Her friend Doon is adorably scowly and moody, her grandmother delightfully batty, and the mayor of the town so vividly painted that by the time he'd finished his third sentence he stood fully formed in my mind. Although characters aren't this book's only strength...
The plot played out almost like a song, lyrical and swaying, full of the stuff of life. I was filled with humor, curiosity, terror and joy in rapid succession, only to start the cycle again at the next turn of the page - and by the end of the book I must confess I was a bit misty eyed. And, without spoiling anything, I'll say that the last couple of paragraphs filled me with bubbling anticipation, and now I think I'll explode if I don't find out what happens soon!
Come on, Duprau, give us the next book!
on November 25, 2012
I read The City of Ember when it first came out, when a 12-year-old neighbor girl told me about it. I read it again aloud to my wife and her son. Then we saw the movie in the theater. Then we saw the DVD. Now I've just finished the graphic novel. I love this story!
(spoiler alert) At first I was sad that in the graphic novel there are so many details missing. However, I got hooked into the story. I was only going to read for a little bit but I read the whole book in one evening. And something happened to me. It happened every time I read the book and saw the movie: when Lina and Dune come out of the cave and smell the fresh air for the first time in their lives, I got chills. Then as the light begins, and the sun comes up, the first time they have ever seen the sun, I get tears in my eyes. Even though this is the fifth time I have read or seen the story, it still is magic to me.
And now that I think about it, this is simply a retelling of the Allegory of the Cave, from Plato's Republic. In that story, men are trapped in a cave, never having seen natural light. They are chained in a way so that they can only see the back wall of the cave, where projections are shown to them by way of a lamp and puppets behind their backs. They believe the puppet shadows are real, that they are all that is real. But a many may break free of his shackles and go outside the cave, and see real things, with real light. It is a metaphor for a kind of perception or enlightenment. I think Jeanne DuPrau has done a wonderful service to Plato by putting the story in this form, with children being the discoverers. It deepens the metphor, because they have not yet grown to believe all the things that adults are supposed to believe. I wonder if DuPrau actually read Plato, or knew about Plato's cave, or simply pulled the story out of her own imagination. Either way the City of Ember will always be one of my favorite stories.
I feel the magic is still there, whether you read the whole novel, the movie, or the graphic novel.
I'm working as hard as I possibly can to become the number one expert in post-apocalyptic children's books. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it. In the course of my futuristic/distopia-laden reading list, I found that I would be amiss if I didn't read Jeanne DuPrau's 2003 popular puppy, "City of Ember". Drawing on elements from books as widely divergent as Lois Lowry's, "The Giver" to Neal Shusterman's less well-known, "Downsiders", the book contains an interesting look into the life of a community that has forgotten for 200 some years that it's living in a bunker.
As every good schoolchild in Ember knows, their city, "is the only light in the dark world. Beyond Ember, the darkness goes on forever in all directions". In a town lit solely by electric lights, the people of Ember know relatively little about the city's history. They know that it was created two hundred some years ago by the Builders and was provided with everything the people might need. But only recently has this small civilization become imperiled by its inability to be self-sufficent. Power outages result in the lights going out periodically with total terrifying darkness sweeping the land. Food and other supplies seem to be running scarce and Ember is becoming victim to hoarders and thieves. Young Lina and Doon seem to be the only people in town who want to find a way out of Ember, if it's at all possible. When Lina's grandmother unwittingly unearths ancient instructions for leaving the city, it's up to the two children to go where no one else in Ember has ever gone. Over the river and into the light.
In many ways, "The City of Ember" reminded me of "Noah's Castle" by John Rowe Townsend. The lessons about hoarding food and what a single person owes their community come up in both books regularly. "Ember" also bears significant similarities to other futuristic distopia worlds like those found in the aforementioned "The Giver" and Zilpha Keatley Snyder's, "Below the Root". Like those books, this one begins with a pre-adolescent attending an important meeting than will determine their future career. Like those books, the hero's innocence is destroyed when they discover the secret and ugly inner workings of the town. There were a lot of original things in this books as well, however. I liked the idea that Ember was constantly afraid that someday their city's lights would go off and they'd be plunged in darkness forever. I was incredibly grateful that as an author DuPrau resisted the temptation to include a stereotypical wise blind person in the text who teaches the children how to be brave (trust me, it would've been easy to do). There was the clever fact that all foods grown in Ember were, essentially, tubers. I loved the anticipation I felt as I followed Lina and Doon through deciphering the ancient instructions (kids who like books that contain clues and codes will appreciate that aspect of the story) and finally into a whole new world. In these ways, the author was adept at her story. In other ways, less so.
To be honest, DuPrau isn't a fan of details. Which is to say, some of the finer aspects of the city of Ember are left totally unexplained. Why, for example, hasn't overpopulation ever been a problem or even addressed? How could a group of people, even if they've been entirely cut off from the known world, not discover the finer aspects of fire in the course of their 250 some years underground? Heck, I'd think that would be a primary concern for the local scientists! And where are the dead buried? And how do these primitive doctors deal with birth and surgery? These may appear to be extraneous questions, but the very nature of the world of Ember makes you think them up! I know I keep citing other books, but the problems I had with this story mimicked the problems I had with a fellow post-apocalyptic tale, "The Girl Who Owned a City" by O.T. Nelson. "The City of Ember" skimped on the details of its world. I think that if you asked its author about Ember personally she'd be able to give you an array of different answers to these questions. Unfortunately, when it comes to the book she leaves you hanging.
Which is not to say that "The City of Ember" isn't worthwhile reading. While it certainly lacks of the sophistication of (oh say) William Nicholson's, "The Wind Singer", it's still clear that DuPrau loved writing this book and made that love apparent in its creation. And as an added side-note, I was entranced by the map of Ember provided at the front of the story. No one is really credited with it, but it's one of the high points of the book, offering more details and intricate plottings than you'll find in the text of the novel itself. Kids who want to be taken to an entirely different world will love what "The City of Ember" does for them. They'll sympathize with the characters and remain on tenterhooks until, after finishing the book, they're able to get their hands on its sequel, "The People of Sparks". For an appealing story about bravery in a dark deep world, "The City of Ember" is an enjoyable romp. Consider picking it up for a look-see. Just don't look too deeply.
on September 28, 2012
This was actually my first time (with my daughter) reading City of Ember. This book does an excellent job graphically setting the stage. It really makes you wonder what kind of strange world the kids are living in. The graphics also do an excellent job portraying the actors emotions. I definitely recommend this, especially to read with a daughter/son. But be warned, we stayed up way past bedtime the first night :)
on December 8, 2003
I just finished City of Ember and I was amazed at how good it was. I've been reading science fiction and fantasy my whole life and was still very impressed with this good read. I picked this up because of the appealing cover design as a gift for my nephew. I thought I'd read a little to see if it was interesting. I read half the book that night and the rest the next day. If you like Harry Potter or John Christopher's Tripods series you will definetely like City of Ember. The book moves along very quickly and smoothly with engaging characters. The solutions that the characters find to the (clever plot device) shreddded instruction sheet puzzle keeps you turning back to page 94 to check and double check your own guesses. Although this is the first book in a series(?)it has enough closure at the end that you feel fulfilled and don't feel cheated. I'm looking forward to the sequel to this very satisfying read.
on February 25, 2014
This adaptation of the story is very simple and easy for anyone to read. This version over simplifies the story leaving out so much if the mystery and discovery the Lina and Doon make. I recommend reading this book after you have read the original.
The city of Ember is encased in perpetual darkness. There are no sun, moon, nor stars - just a blackness so absolute that it makes people go crazy. Thus, the citizens of Ember rely enitirely on light bulbs and electricity to seperate the day hours from the night.
For 200 years, life was idyllic. At the beginning of this book however, during the year 241, supplies have grown low. The citizens are particularly alarmed since it seems like there maybe a shortage of lightbulbs. What's worse, they do not have the means to make or obtain more. Ember sits surrounded by nothingness so there is no trade with other communities. Thus begins the adventures of Lina and Doon, two twelve year olds who struggle to live in a society plagued by scarcity and fear and their attempts to escape from it.
This book was a powerful book and got me thinking alot about scarcity; especially with the world situation as it is. Doubtless, in Earth's future, we will eventually have to deal with scarcity of resources and the concepts spawned in this book would be great conversation starters for a classroom or within a family discussion.
I, persoanlly, found it intriguing how the government of Ember reacted to the supply shortage.
Deprau's writing style is simplistic yet powerful. She establishes an atomsphere in Ember that is palpable. You can almost feel the weight of the darkness. Her characters are wonderfully talented, but they each have their own faults that they have to struggle with. I especially loved Doon. I couldn't help but root for him.
In short, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to children, teens and adults alike. I can't wait to start on the sequel. I would recommend having it close by since you'll want to find out immediately what happens next.
on March 8, 2016
This was a pretty good, simple read, but predictable. It was interesting and creative, and moved at a steady pace. SPOILER > I was disappointed that the two main characters could have been romantic/a couple, but everything was kept so platonic is was almost stale. I suppose that would make this a good (very) young adult book - probably pre-high school. As an adult, I enjoyed the book and thought it could be read by a child in fifth or sixth grade with little worry about the content.