[The City of Ember]: A Review

Hi everyone and happy weekend! Today I am excited to post a review and to be just about caught up on my reviews (just Sense and Sensibility needs reviewing now)! I need to do more reading this month 😉

I’ve been on a bit of a children’s lit kick lately, and it’s been fun to read and reread some great novels for kids. This week I’m talking about The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. I have to admit that I saw the movie first–years ago. And I am not sure why it has taken me so long to read the book. This was my first time reading it. It is an easy read, great for new and middle grade readers.

Initial Thoughts:

  • This story is really clever and also a bit dark. The idea that these people live underground and cannot get out is interesting but also scary.
  • I would not want to live in Ember! Honestly, it kind of freaks me out to think about living underground on canned food and waiting for the lights to go out. The blackouts were the scariest parts of the book for me!
  • I didn’t know this was the first book in a series. I’m not sure I want to read the full series. I think it’s an interesting novel standing on it’s own. More on this later.


The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is the story of the people of Ember, a city built deep underground long ago by the builders. Over the years, the specific instructions on how to leave Ember were lost and the people continue to live their lives as they always have. Lina gets her first job as a messenger and begins to see that their city will not last forever. Doon knows something has to change or their city will die. Together, they uncover lost instructions that could help them leave Ember and save everyone. But will people believe them? And can they find the determination and the courage to leave the only home they’ve ever known?

Lina is a likable protagonist. She is positive, adventurous, and kind. I enjoyed her excitement for life and her determination to see the world and others positively. I would have liked her job as messenger–interacting with people and being “outside” sounds better in Ember. I was also touched by how sweet she is to her baby sister, Poppy, and her strength and maturity during difficult trials–especially for a young girl. I was rooting for her from the first page.

Doon is also likable–but in a different way. He is more intense and almost angry at their situation. But he is willing to do something about it. He is inquisitive and hardworking. And he is willing to do hard things to make life better for those he loves. It took longer for me to get behind Doon, but as I learned more about where his heart is, I was cheering for him just as much as Lina.

While I liked both protagonists, I found the characters flat and a bit oversimplified. I would have liked more on the protagonists. I wanted more development of why they felt certain ways, of their backgrounds, and of their interactions. Conversely, we only get small descriptions of the other people in Ember. And some of them deserve more attention like Clary and Looper. The characters didn’t jump off the page for me. They were there, but they weren’t overtly memorable.

The society DuPrau creates is intriguing and innovative–but also similar to other dystopian worlds. This book was published in 2003, earlier than I anticipated. In some ways, it seems ahead of it’s time. In the last several years, there have been many popular novels about societies and people in post-apocalyptic or dystopian worlds (The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc). And I find myself often disappointed by how the series end. The first books are really clever but the later books get too predictable, violent, and/or disagreeable. I dislike “whole world is a conspiracy” twists which these types of books often have. Honestly, it’s experiences with those types of series that make me nervous to continue this one. But I will say that this society is interesting to think about (what would it be like to live underground not knowing there was anything else out there?). Overall, I appreciated this setting’s simplicity and that it stays that way for younger readers.

The plot was equally simple for young readers. Like several other children’s novels I have read this year, this book is under 300 pages. With that intended audience in mind, I think the plot is engaging and exciting. But if this book was intended for an other audience (YA or adult), I think there would be more development–in the characters, political corruption, interactions between the citizens of Ember and the quest to leave Ember. Again, I understand the tone is that of a children’s novel. But I am intrigued by what could have been if the audience was different.

A few favorite quotes from this novel (surprisingly profound):

 What you get is what you get. What you do with what you get though … that’s more the point, wouldn’t you say?”

“There is so much darkness in Ember, Lina. It’s not just outside, it’s inside us, too. Everyone has some darkness inside. It’s like a hungry creature. It wants and wants and wants with terrible power. And the more you give it, the bigger and hungrier it gets.”

The City of Ember, pages 51 and 168

Since I remember the basics of the plot from the movie, it wasn’t surprising or strange to see how the plot progressed and eventually ended. And perhaps because I knew how it ended, I wasn’t blown away. I enjoyed the novel. I’m glad I read it. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t find it memorable. I’m not going to recommend it to everyone I know. Perhaps that’s a product of my situation while reading it, but it’s still true. A good middle-grade novel but not my favorite.

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What are some of your favorite children’s novels?

One thought on “[The City of Ember]: A Review

  1. Pingback: April Wrap-Up and May TBR – greenish bookshelf

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