Having assigned myself a backpack full of novels for our rather extended break, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t get through all 5 of the titles that remained on my Partner-Books Reading List by the time we returned from vacation. The first two went by fairly quickly, as one was excellent and I couldn’t put it down, and the other was terrible and I was able to skim through the repetitive parts and speed read through the drama. The third, this title, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, was a quick read as well and not for the same reasons as the other two.
Ember is a dark place, literally and figuratively. It is a city that is run on electricity, lit by flickering light bulbs powered by an underground river that is feared and cherished by the city’s population. Ember is a trouble city that is running out of resources — the light bulb supply is low, the canned foods have almost all been consumed, the crops are diseased, the people are ill — threatening an eternity of darkness for its inhabitants. It is in this setting we meet two adventurous 12 year olds named Lina and Doon, who guide us through the city and through a mystery that holds the key to their and their fellow Ember-ites’ future.
Lina is an energetic, creative and optimistic narrator, who paints a sad, but loving portrait of this dying city for the reader. She is a stereotypical orphan-hero, who is busy caring for an ailing grandmother and a rambunctious toddler-sister while stepping out for the first time as a young adult with an important job as a city messenger. While Kendra of the self-titled novel by Coe Booth hated and berated her grandmother for her heavy-handed style of parenting, Lina wishes she had a little more parental support, as she is braving the dark world mostly on her own. Lina is a charismatic, if not cliched, narrator, but she is lovable and good. She, with the help of her bug-loving, revolution-minded childhood pal, Doon, sets out to save her family and her city by solving the mystery behind the city of Ember.
DuPrau’s story is a lovely middle grades novel about hope, perseverance and the beauty of youth. Like Tolkien’s second novel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, DuPrau’s first in this series about Ember and its inhabitants, is also unabashedly environmentally oriented. Her messages about humans’ ability to destroy and preserve the world are hard-hitting, as are her depictions of what our world could become if we were to use up what we have left. The messages are not trite nor pedantic. They are honest and, ultimately, hopeful, but this book should serve as some sort of warning to the younger generations reading it to take care of our home, or we might find ourselves in a thick darkness, like that of The City of Ember.