The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel Book Poster Image
Adaptation of sci-fi favorite a little murky visually.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Set sometime in the future in an isolated underground city, The City of Ember shows what it might be like to survive in a place falling apart, as food and power become scarce and infrastructure breaks down. It also shows how some citizens can have the courage to imagine a better way of life.

Positive Messages

As the lights flicker and food runs low, many of the citizens of Ember meekly accept that this is the way life has to be. The City of Ember tells the story of two children with the courage and the curiosity to seek salvation on their own.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While everyone else around them seems to accept Ember's failing infrastructure, Lina and Doon persevere in their quest for a better way of life, not only for themselves but for their loved ones. They are willing to stand up to the corrupt mayor, and they have the imagination to solve the puzzle in a mysterious document that hints at a way out of the darkness.

Violence & Scariness

Although set in a darkened underground city, The City of Ember is not particularly violent or scary. A crowd throws garbage at the mayor. An elderly supporting character dies in her sleep. The children take a somewhat harrowing boat ride through darkened tunnels.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this graphic adaptation of The City of Ember captures only some of the power of Jeanne DuPrau's popular science-fiction novel about kids looking for a way out of an increasingly dark underground city. The plot hinges on the deciphering of a ripped-up document, and the puzzle simply is not visually interesting. There's one death by natural causes and a couple of mildly frightening episodes in darkened tunnels, but no objectionable language or content.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 11-year-old Written byPoodle Reviews September 22, 2018
I think that this is a quite tame book that my kid enjoyed. it was a bit boring though but it was not bad but it took like 2 hours or less to read!
Parent of a 10, 12, and 16-year-old Written byHendo H. U January 7, 2018
Teen, 14 years old Written byWooba February 15, 2020
Will take a short time to read. Sort of comes halfway between plodding and gripping. And I’d find it more interesting if we saw what happened next - the whole a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySDCS 8A 9 January 21, 2020


The main character is a girl named Lina. When you turn thirteen, you have to get a job. Lina wanted to be messenger, but she got Pipes worker instead. Her and a... Continue reading

What's the story?

The citizens of the underground city of Ember regard it as the only light in a dark world. But when the lights flicker and food begins to run low, few have the imagination to believe that there might be another way to live. Lina, a messager, and Doon, a pipeworks laborer, hope there might be a way to save themselves and the ones they love, and when they find a mysterious document that hints at a way out of Ember, they pursue every clue to its surprising conclusion.

Is it any good?

This graphic adaptation of THE CITY OF EMBER hits the high points of the popular science-fiction novel, but it fails to generate the narrative power of the original. With the tale set mostly in darkness, the illustrations are necessarily muted and even murky. Much of the plot revolves around clues hidden in a ripped-up document, and the porocess of deciphering them is not visually interesting. Fans of Jeanne DuPrau's novel might enjoy this version, but it seems unlikely to spur new readers toward the original book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the graphic novel adaptation of The Ember City compares with the original novel. Is it hard to make a dark underground city look interesting in drawn panels? 

  • The City of Ember is science fiction, but do you think the failing city depicted in it is at all realistic? Can you imagine what it would be like in your city if food and power were scarce?

  • Would you be able to set off for life in a new city with only a few possessions and only a vague sense of your destination?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and graphic novels

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