The City of Ember
By Matt Berman,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Part fantasy, part mystery, part treasure hunt.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Introduces kids to heavy issues like resource scarcity, spirituality, and corruption. Lina and Doon must decipher clues, learn to work together, and understand the role of nature in their everyday lives. The in-world language and symbolism create an engaging environment for close reading and critical thinking skills. Also has basic introductions to economics, engineering, and development of electricity.
This coming-of-age story is about learning to manage anger and frustration just as much as it's a story about two smart kids solving a mystery and saving the people in their city. Shifting points of view between Lina and Doon allow readers to see young people working together for the greater good, being excited about exploration, resolving conflict, coming to value nature. Individual character arcs show value of friendship, loyalty. Questioning authority is sometimes necessary to save lives. Presents basic building blocks of faith and spirituality in an environment that also values reason, logic, and honesty.
Positive Role Models
Lina is a strong young woman who must learn to overcome obstacles to solve problems. Doon is an ambitious young man who must learn to manage his frustrations and anger. Author Jeanne DuPrau takes care to present each as not always successful but never giving up. Positive parent-child encounters include setting goals, managing expectations, being resilient, and the difference between right and wrong.
Doesn't explicitly incorporate race or ethnicity, but characters' struggles will resonate across class lines. Story revolves around a young girl who performs critical tasks and acts as the main foil for all other characters. Plot constantly includes important lessons about greed, loyalty, power imbalance, and thinking for yourself in ways that create a foundation for insight and understanding into socioeconomic differences.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember is an engaging dystopian sci-fi story about two young teens in a race against time to save their city before the lights in Ember go out forever. This action adventure, set in a post-apocalyptic world, tells a story about learning to work together, conquer fears, and uncover the truth against the odds. DuPrau teaches critical thinking skills by having relatable characters solve a mystery. Young readers will enjoy the drama, intrigue, and healthy friendship that develops between the female and male main characters.
Where to Read
Based on 14 parent reviews
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Interesting book for our current times
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What's the Story?
Ember is a city in eternal darkness, only kept light by its increasingly unreliable electric system. Other systems are falling apart as well, and stockpiles of food and essentials that have lasted hundreds of years are running out. The city was only meant to last 220 years, and now it has been 241. But the instructions that the Builders left have been lost and forgotten.
Lina finds them, but not before her baby sister has chewed them into virtual indecipherability. Now she and her friend Doon must figure them out from the few disjointed letters left, before the city falls apart. Their efforts lead them to discover long forgotten secrets about the nature and purpose of Ember, and what the Builders intended. They want to share their discoveries with the rest of the citizens -- but only if the corrupt mayor and his guards don't stop them first.
Is It Any Good?
Part dystopian fantasy, part mystery, part code-breaking treasure hunt, this is an intriguing story. Deciphering the clues from the damaged instructions will keep readers guessing, despite some predictable plot twists in the center section, and they will be rooting for the appealing main characters.
While lacking the complexity or moral ambiguity of The Giver, City of Ember has its own unique features: It's a city designed not to be a utopia, but rather to hold the remnants of humanity safe and isolated for a fixed period, then release them. The problem comes when the release doesn't happen, no one knows that it should have, and the city is past its expiration date. A fascinating scenario -- and a perfect set up for the sequel as well as the remaining books in the series.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about dystopian novels like City of Ember. Why are they so popular? Is it possible to set up an ordered society and, if so, how?
What are some ways people can work to value nature, not waste resources?
What can people do to ensure the planet keeps supporting human life? Families can discuss personal responsibility, social responsibility, and civic involvement.
What skills help people solve problems and work together?
- Author: Jeanne DuPrau
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Random House
- Publication date: March 31, 2004
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 13
- Number of pages: 270
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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