Sunday, February 10, 2008

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375822747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375822742
  • List Price: $5.99
  • I finished this book on Feb. 8th
This is the first book in a series for middle schoolers. I bought it at a mega sale over the summer and it's been sitting around chatting with other books in the "To Be Read" pile for a while now. I decided it was time to dust it off (literally) and give it a go.
The book is based in the post-apocalyptic underground City of Ember. It seems that the city was built and set up with stores of food and electricity and the people of the city forgot over time what the real world is like. They are left with one set of instructions to get out after what would presumably be a good amount of time for the world to become safe again (250 years).
We meet our heroine, 12-year-old Lina Mayfleet on "Assignment Day" at school. This is the day where they effectively graduate from formal education and are randomly assigned a job (which totally sucks). Lina wants to be a messenger and, of course, pulls the crappy job of pipeworker. Doone, a social upstart who wants to save the failing city pulls messenger and is annoyed. So, you guessed it, they pull the old switcheroo.
Next Lina finds a piece of paper which seems to detail something important, but has been munched on by her baby sister. It is, of course, the instructions for getting out of the city. The problem is, no one knows they are supposed to be looking for it. She and Doon set out to decipher the broken message and save the day.
The idea of the underground city is cool. They have greenhouses, but most of their supplies come from storehouses and of course, the canned good and lightbulbs are rapidly depleting. Which brings me to another point. It's hard for us to imagine a world that's entirely dark but that's how this place is. It is lit only by overhead lights and at night instead of dusk and sunset it just goes dark at lights out. Yikes. Also: the power is failing. And there are occasional blackouts. Can you imagine? During these blackouts the lights are off completely and everything is pitch dark. Here that's not the case, even when there is a blackout there are still stars, there's still the moon, but these people live in fear that the lights will go out forever and that will be it. For some reason, they haven't figured out candles. (Lame).
The story is interesting and creative and the characters are good. The reading level is low, so I'm sure it would be very easy for this to be read by the 9 year olds that Amazon suggests. This series is very popular in the elementary and middle schools that I've seen. Here's a few links to some lesson plans for the book: Random House reader's guide, or the Teacher's @ Random teaching guide.
Oh, and it's going to be a movie with Bill Murray. I just got my paws on the rest of the series so you can expect those reviews soon.

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