The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After the barrage of dystopian novels that have been the rage for the last few years, this seemed like just another attempt to capitalize on the success of The Hunger Games and Divergent. Little did I know that it was published in 2003, many years before those books. Several of my students insisted that it was "so good!!!!" and encouraged me to read it, so I did. It's a fairly short, easy read.
The City of Ember is set in the future, what has been described as post-apocalyptic. The main characters are Doon and Lina who have been assigned their first jobs. The city was supposed to be a refuge, or perhaps an experiment, but the Builders never returned to Ember. Years and years have passed so that the people no longer remember any life before Ember, which is always dark and requires electricity. Things have run smoothly for who knows how long - until now. Stores of food and supplies are running low, the government is corrupt, and the electricity is beginning to fail. Doon and Lina must solve a mystery, initiated by Lina's grandmother, if they are to save the people of their city.
I liked that this book had a mysterious element with some suspense as it made me want to keep reading. There were some adventures along the way. And the ending is not really an ending, because, surprise, there is a sequel. I'm not sure if I care enough about the characters to invest my time in another book, though, as the book lacked character development. The friendship of Lina and Doon, their effort to solve a mystery that might save their community, and the snags that occur along the way are what kept me reading.
I would not put Ember on the same level as The Giver (which I read first although it was published two years later). Several parts reminded me of it. The Builders arranged things so the citizens would not have the memory of their previous lives. They have assigned jobs (at the tender age of 12) so that the city functions in an orderly manner. However, The Giver was deeper with more sophisticated conflicts and themes. Situations in Ember just seemed to be solved a little too easily for Lina and Doon. Oh, here are the items we need, what a coincidence.
For younger readers, this is a great starter dystopian book that does not get as violent as The Hunger Games or Divergent, nor does it require the same reading skill as The Giver, or even Matched. I would recommend this for grades 4-6. For adults, if you're needing a "bubble gum" book just to kill time, this should do the trick. And it's enjoyable.
Jeanne DuPrau beat all the others to the punch in the dystopian genre, and for that and her clever storyline, she deserves praise.
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