City of Ember [book review]

Jeanne Duprau
City of Ember
270 pages
Yearling, 2003

Story: Lina and Doon are worried that their underground city will soon run out of supplies and that there are certain things the Mayor isn’t telling the citizens of Ember. All the light in the city comes from lamps and floodlights that have to be turned on and shut off every day. When they are turned off, the city is completely dark, with no stars, sun, or moon. The electricity in the city comes from an ancient hydro-electric generator in the underground Pipeworks. Lina and Doon notice that there are more and more “blackouts” recently when all the lights shut off in the middle of the day, they try to uncover the secrets hidden in the Pipeworks and find their way to a city beyond Ember.

Main Character: The main characters are Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, two 12-year-olds. The story alternates with every other chapter being from one of the main characters point’s of view. They are two young people just entering the world of work in the underground city of Ember. They draw their jobs from a bag (much like jobs that are assigned in The Giver) All the books in the library have been written by hand by residents of Ember except “The Book of Ember”, “The Book of Letters” and “The Book of Numbers.”

Audience: Anyone who likes fantasy that “maybe could happen.” It is in a class with other great books like The Giver and Anthem. This is a story that encourages young people to find the truth out for themselves and to not take knowledge for granted.

Comments: I loved this book! I loved that there were both a female and male character but that you are free to identify with whichever one you want. The way the city is described is so neat you feel like it could really exist. The politics of the story are also fascinating, after reading City of Ember be ready for great conversations about society and censorship.

Discussion Questions:
#1 Have half the class read City of Ember and the other half read The Giver by Lois Lowry, have them switch and then compare and contrast the two stories. Use this as an introduction to alternative types of societies.
#2 If there is a lot of interest in the story you could also introduce Anthem by Ayn Rand as a book that delves even more deeply into similar themes.
#3 Think about everyday objects that are scarce or nonexistent in Ember, like certain foods or crayons and pens. The residents of Ember have to reuse and recycle everything in order for life to go on but they continue to operate a somewhat capitalistic society (supply and demand and other similar ideas apply) what would our lives be like if there was nothing new and we had to build our lives out of old, discarded objects?
#4 Create a map of the different places in Ember (have students work on a large map by piecing smaller maps together) recreate Lina and Doon’s journey, and for effect have a few “blackouts” while you are trying to navigate their progress on the map!
#5 Create a message that is a secret code, have students decode the message like Lina and Doon did to find out where the exit out of Ember was.
#6 Have students draw from a list of jobs like Lina and Doon were forced to in the story.

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