The City of Ember

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The City of Ember Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Part fantasy, part mystery, part treasure hunt.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 111 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lina and Doon emerge from Ember and are lucky enough to behold the beauty of a world they were never exposed to until now. Readers will be reacquainted with the power of nature’s breathtaking allure, reminding them of the significant role that such an easily overlooked component still possesses.

Positive Messages

Even in Ember, a dark city that is rapidly falling apart, friendship seems to be the key to getting by. The different relationships that Lina has with her friends shed light on the nature of friendships – which ones are genuine and which ones are simply convenient for the time being. Lina and Doon’s relationship encourages readers to be courageous in the face of adversity. Having a friend by your side to go along for the ride is definitely a plus.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lina proves to be a positive role model, especially in contrast to the mayor’s greed. Her self-awareness allows her to successfully manage her wants, needs, and flaws. Her imagination allows her to build a whole new city in her mind and to escape from the ongoing problems of Ember. Doon also has a particular need to leave Ember as he feels it is too small of a place to hold his many ambitions.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that City of Ember is an engrossing sci-fi fantasy that features appealing main characters and an intriguing mystery.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bycarwina July 17, 2016

Per my 11 year old: Really Good!

This book is great and you should read it because it has a lot of suspense and is fun to read along with the rest of the series.
Adult Written bylkjhgfdsapoiuyt... December 9, 2015

Really good

I think it's good because it has a lot of plot twist and mystery in it.
Teen, 13 years old Written byRavenclawReader February 12, 2021

241 Years

This is great! You'll see in The Prophet of Yonwood that they escaped to an underground city from the war. The people who created the city planned to let p... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySDCS 8A 7 January 17, 2020


This is an amazing story about a girl named Lina and boy named Doon. Their city was supposed to stay underground for 220 years, but one of the mayors died befor... Continue reading

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 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, THE 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 one fraught with possibilities for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dystopian novels. Why are they so popular?

  • Is it possible to set up an ordered society and, if so, how?

  • Other topics raised here include political corruption and what an individual owes to society.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love intrigue

Themes & Topics

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