Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

This is the first book in a YA series, which I have heard much about and read on the recommendation of my dear sister, who is a YA several years more Y than I. It follows two 12-year-olds who live in the City of Ember, a place where the sky is always dark. But what's that? They're running out of food, widgets, and lightbulbs to keep the streets lit?

First, and remember this, I liked the book. I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was a YA urban fantasy book, and it's not. It's more of a kids' sci-fi-ish book. But after I figured that out, it was original, interesting, and kept me curious the whole way through, which is an important feature for a kids' book to have.

The two main characters, Lina and Doon, are pretty normal stars for a book like this. Kids who seem to be the only competent people in existence. But I love how they take time to interact with each other, and they actually have reasons for running into each other besides "the plot says so." The addition of Lina's baby sister helped to ground Lina and Doon and keep them from being too autonomous. Several of the secondary characters, like Doon's father, had a refreshing depth I that I didn't expect and proved that not ALL of the adults are useless. And even if they don't ACT like real kids, Lina and Doon have an earnestness about them that's really believable.

Okay. I have issues with the plot. I have no idea why everyone thinks this book is a YA when no one over the age of fourteen is going to believe a word of it. The very first incident in the book is the graduation of the 12-year-old students. As per tradition, jobs are RANDOMLY ASSIGNED to them and they go out to make their way in the world and become useful members of society. I can understand that a city that's running down needs everyone to start helping at an early age, but randomly assigning the jobs? That can't be efficient.

The middle half of the book is the best. It has a Redwall-esque riddle to solve and believable kid angst, mixed in with Tantalizingly Tiny Tidbits of information about Ember. But there's a depressing lack of climax to the story, and the reveals aren't satisfying to me. Just ask my sister, I ranted at her for a good half hour about how retarded some of it was.

Back to the good stuff though. A kid won't notice any of the stuff I didn't like, and there's both a prequel and a sequel to maybe explain some of the things that didn't work. And I liked the book. It has a slightly Lemony Snicket-y feel, but with content more similar to The Giver. (It doesn't have near the upsetting content as The Giver, it just reminds me of it. Also: I love The Giver.) So if you have/are a 12-year-old, snatch City of Ember up and make yourself comfortable, you'll love it.

Note that a movie version of this book came out a short while ago. It didn't play at my local theater, but if anyone's seen it I'd love to hear their opinions.

ETA: Saw the movie, and it was awful. Don't see it.

Buy The City of Ember


  1. This is the second review of this book I've seen this week. It looks perfect for reading with my niece.

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