The City of Ember
|Genre||Post-apocalyptic, science fiction, children's literature|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback),digital (DVD)|
|LC Class||PZ7.D927 Ci 2003|
|Followed by||The People of Sparks|
The City of Ember is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Jeanne DuPrau that was published in 2003. Similar to Suzanne Martel's The City Under Ground published in 1963 and Helen Mary Hoover's This Time of Darkness published in 1980, the story is about Ember, an underground city that is slowly running out of power and supplies due to its aging infrastructure. The young protagonist, Lina Mayfleet, and her friend, Doon Harrow (the second protagonist), manage to decode a message and follow clues left behind by the original builders of the City of Ember that would lead them to safety in the outside world.
It is the first "Book of Ember" in the eponymous series, which also includes The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and the final installment The Diamond of Darkhold. In 2008, the book was adapted into a film by Walden Media and Playtone.
Architects, scientists and doctors referred to as "The Builders," designed a city with supplies for its inhabitants to survive for at least 200 years. During that time, the Earth would be dangerous, because of an impending disaster. After completion of the city, The Builders give the first mayor of the city a locked box that was to be passed down from one mayor to the next. Unknown to the mayors who were to pass it down the line, the box was set to open after 200 years and provide instructions to the city's inhabitants on how to save humanity.
For several generations, the box is faithfully passed down from one mayor to the next until the seventh mayor who, hoping that the box might contain a cure for the deadly cough that was infecting many citizens of the city at the time, takes the box home and tries to break it open. He fails, and dies before he is able to return the box to its rightful place, or inform anyone else of its importance.
The story moves forward to the year 241 where the town is running out of supplies and the massive generator that provides the light and power for the city is on its last legs. At a graduation ceremony where young people are assigned their jobs, Lina Mayfleet is unfortunately assigned the job of “Pipeworks Laborer," while Doon Harrow has to be a “Messenger.” Both are unhappy with their assignments because Doon wants to fix the generator and Lina wants to be free. Both decide to switch jobs to be happy.
At home, Lina lives with her grandma and young sister. Lina's little sister Poppy chews old piece of paper she salvaged from inside a box. Unknown to her, it is the box that was passed from mayor to mayor. While at work Lina is happy and Doon is angry with his job. Currently, many people referred to as the "Believers" believe that the Builders would come back and guide the citizens of Ember out of the city. Lina attempts to decipher the letter, but her little sister, Poppy, has chewed on it and the letter has holes and is ripped. Finally, she asks Doon and a few other people to help her reconstruct the paper.
After much trial and error she and Doon realize that it is instructions from the Builders on how to exit the city of Ember. At home, Granny begins to die and seeks help from her neighbor Mrs. Murdo. One morning, Granny dies and Lina and Poppy move in with Murdo.
Meanwhile, Doon discovers a roped off tunnel with a locked door and a ceiling hatch. He brings Lina down and discovers a peculiar man with a package. Later, Doon sees a familiar man sleeping in the secret room and tells Lina. Both realize that the mayor and a storeroom worker named Looper have been stealing from Ember and they report the crime.
Soon, under cover of the Singing rehearsal, they discover boats and candles in a secret room by the great river that powers the entire community. The boats were meant to be used by the community to escape down the river. After returning, they discover that the guards have made them fugitives and deduce that they are corrupt. Lina is found and arrested and is taken to the mayor who threatens to jail her. Suddenly, a blackout happens and Lina escapes and sees the Singing commence. She finds Poppy and Murdo and convinces her to give Poppy to her and runs to Doon.
They go on a wild boat ride and when the boat finally stops, they find an old journal explaining the history of Ember. The Builders decided to protect 100 adults and 100 children to ensure that the human race would survive. After they find the journal they are faced with a very steep climb that takes hours, but when they get to the top they discover the outside world, and through a series of events they find a cave leading to a cliff that shows the underground city miles below. In a scene reminiscent of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, they are shocked when they see the dim, glimmering lights and realize that Ember is underground. They throw a rock with instructions tied to it down to the city in hope that the people of Ember will escape. The novel ends with Mrs. Murdo finding the note.
The City of Ember was praised for its setting and main characters, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow. Kirkus Reviews praised the characters finding them "likable" for their courage, but also for their flaws of human pride. The reviewer noted how "their weaknesses often complementing each other in interesting ways". Sally Estes from Booklist commented how readers would be able to connect to Lina and Doon's courage amidst the conflicts. Robert Sutton from Horn Book Magazine compared the novel to Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, noting how "the darkness of Ember is essentially literal" with the generator failing and running out of power. Sutton noted how DuPrau does not explain the history of Ember all at once, which would confuse and overwhelm the reader and instead, "allows the events of the story to convey the necessary information". Lina and Doon were described as "good sorts" that are "deeply etched". Dian Roback from Publishers Weekly also praised the "full blooded characters" as every bit as good as the plot which would hook readers until the end. While Jones Johns from School Library Journal found that the setting isn't as ingenious as the ones in Joan Aiken's Is and Lois Lowry's The Giver, he found that the characters and pace of the plot will keep readers hooked.
A film adaptation of the novel was produced by Walden Media and Playtone with Bill Murray as the mayor, Saoirse Ronan as Lina, and Harry Treadaway as Doon. Filming was finished in October 2007 and the film was released a year later on October 10, 2008. City of Ember was released on DVD on January 20, 2009.
- 2003 Child Magazine's Best Children's Book
- 2003 Kirkus Editor's Choice
- 2006 Mark Twain Award
- 2006 William Allen White Children's Book Award
- American Library Association Notable Book
- "Jeanne DuPrau.com : Coming this year! The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel!". Retrieved 2012-02-24.
- Kirkus Reviews (EBSOhost) 71 (10): 749. ISSN 0042-6598.
- Estes, Sally (April 15, 2003). Booklist (EBSCOhost) 99 (16): 1466. ISSN 0006-7385.
- Sutton, Roger (May–June 2003). Horn Book Magazine (EBSCOhost) 79 (3): 343. ISSN 0018-5078.
- Roback, Diane (March 10, 2003). Publishers Weekly (EBSCOhost) 250 (10): 72. ISSN 0000-0019.
- Peters, John (May 2003). School Library Journal (EBSCOhost) 49 (5): 150. ISSN 0362-8930.
- "City of Ember (2008)".
- "Mark Twain Award: Previous Winners". Missouri Association of School Librarians.
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