Nancy O'Toole's Reviews > The City of Ember

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
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's review
Aug 15, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: library, middle-grade
Read in June, 2009

The City of Ember exists in a world of darkness that is illuminated by electric lights. When every child reaches twelve years of age, they are assigned a job at random. Lina Mayfleet is horrified when she does not get her desired job as messenger, and instead is has to work in the damp, cold Pipeworks. She is surprised, but happy when Doon Harrow, volunteers to switch jobs with her, giving up he recently picked position as messenger. Doon knows there is something wrong with Ember. Blackouts are becoming more frequent, supplies are running thin, and the people are becoming nervous and scared. Working on the Pipeworks means he will be closer to the generator. Doon, who has always been good at fixing things, hopes that he can access the generator and figure out how to fix the electrical problems before the City of Ember is doomed to darkness.

One thing Jeanne DuPrau does wonderfully here is crafting a unique, rich world with a limited word count. Through the eyes of Lina and Doon we’re introduced to a culture that is very different from our own. Most writers would depend on long passages of info dump, but DuPrau does a great job of integrating the necessary info into the story as casually as possible. Like many children’s book published since Harry Potter convinced the world that children do like to think too, is also not a fluff novel. It’s not afraid to ask some tricky questions, and doesn’t provide straightforward answers. The characters, such as moody Doon, and responsible Lina, are also quite likeable.

Now here’s where I get a little critical. I know that I’m in the minority here, as this book is pretty universally loved. I also want to admit up front that I do consider this to be positive reading experience, and consider any set back to be partially due to the fact that I am not in the intended 9-12 age range. Still… I expected a little more from The City of Ember. The set up is great. We’re presented with morally complex characters in a unique setting, who have to solve an interesting puzzle-like quest. My problem was I wanted to see more of the culture of the city. Also, the end, which does resolve the main plotline (Will they escape Ember?), leaves far too many questions unanswered. Why did the Builders find in necessary to create Ember? Why did they want to leave its people so ignorant? What is going on in the outside world? Etc. A similar book, The Giver, does this as well, but to be honest I’ve never had that problem with The Giver. Fortunately, there are other books in the series that will hopefully answer these questions.

Perhaps I am being a little too picky here, but I like my books to be a little more self-contained. Still, despite my one frustration, as mentioned before I do consider this a positive reading experience. I suspect that eventually I will go and read the other books in the series.

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