The City of Ember



Part fantasy, part mystery, part treasure hunt.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

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

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
Not applicable
Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Jeanne DuPrau
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great boy role models, Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:March 31, 2004
Number of pages:270
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 13

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byMegan Hall November 21, 2009

better for grade 5-7

i'm 13, and had to read it for school, not age appropriate for my age group, better for 8-11 year olds
Teen, 16 years old Written byMysterious_ballerina January 29, 2011

Great! Mystery/Sci-fi

Ohmigawd this book is so good it's kind of for litteler kids but it's good though parts are sad since the place is poor and foods like pinapples aren't around anymore. VERY VERY GOOD! Must Read great if you like mystery not to sci-fi :)
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byimfine29 June 18, 2010

great and interesting for any reader

i am 13, i read this book when i was in 4th grade. My 3rd grade teacher actually read this book to our class. i really think that this is a good book, it is so unpredictable and addicting! i love this book. it is a very interesting book and a very good read.
What other families should know
Great role models


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