“In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might have been wearing blindfolds.”
-The City of Ember, Chapter 1, page 4.
When the city of Ember was first built, its builders left a plan for its inhabitants to find when they needed it most. Unfortunately, the box it was housed in was moved early, and the one person who knew of the importance of the box passed suddenly away before telling a successor about the box. Thus it was shuffled away, and lost to time.
In the city of Ember, everyone has a job to help keep the city functioning smoothly. The children of Ember attend school until age twelve when they join the workforce. On assignment day Lina Mayfleet, who want to run through the streets of Ember as a messenger, draws a job down in the pipe works. Meanwhile, her classmate Doon Harrow, who wants to learn how things work and fix things, draws a job as a messenger. Lina and Doon decide to trade jobs rather than being stuck with a job that they hate for the three year work period.
The city of Ember is becoming more and more unhappy. The generator providing the electricity for the city is failing more and more often. Leaving the city plunged into darkness for longer instances before it can be fixed. Supplies from the store rooms are running low. The mayor is a corrupt and greedy individual who is more concerned with his plan to keep his own life comfortable than with trying to find a solution for the survival of Ember and the people who live in the city.
When Lina finds the fragments of an ancient document, she convinced Doon to help her decipher it. They discover it contains instructions that seem to lead out of Ember. Can Lina and Doon find out where they lead, and convince the other members of the city to follow them before they run out of supplies and electricity for good?
The City of Ember was written for the young reader, however adult fans of children’s fantasy will find this an enjoyable story as well. Jeanne DuPrau has created a wonderfully intriguing world where sunlight does not exist. The story has high spirited main characters who believe in a good cause, and run up against obstacles that might make most people stop trying. I’ve seen a lot of web sites devoted to questions about the book for teachers to include it in their class curriculum. It was also announced earlier this year that a film version of the book is being filmed with a planned release of next year.