The City of Ember (The City of Ember Book 1)

by Jeanne DuPrau

Paperback, 2004






Yearling (2004), Edition: First Edition, 270 pages


In the year 241, twelve-year-old Lina trades jobs on Assignment Day to be a Messenger to run to new places in her decaying but beloved city, perhaps even to glimpse Unknown Regions.



Young Hoosier Book Award (Nominee — Intermediate — 2006)
Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Children's — 2006)
Triple Crown Awards (Nominee — 2006)
Georgia Children's Book Award (Finalist — 2008)
Great Stone Face Book Award (Nominee — 2005)
Utah Beehive Book Award (Nominee — Children's Fiction — 2005)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Nominee — Grades 3-5 — 2006)
Sasquatch Book Award (Nominee — 2006)
Nutmeg Book Award (Nominee — Intermediate — 2006)
Iowa Teen Award (Nominee — 2006)
Mark Twain Readers Award (Nominee — 2006)
Bluestem Award (Nominee — 2019)
Nēnē Award (Nominee — 2008, 2009)
Nevada Young Readers' Award (Nominee — Intermediate — 2006)
Grand Canyon Reader Award (Nominee — Teen — 2006)
Colorado Blue Spruce Award (Nominee — 2008)
Land Of Enchantment Book Award (Winner — Young Adult — 2007)
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Nominee — 2006)
Flicker Tale Award (Nominee — 2006)
Maud Hart Lovelace Award (Nominee — 2006)
Rhode Island Teen Book Award (Nominee — 2005)
South Carolina Book Awards (Nominee — 2007)
Children's Favorites Awards (Selection — 2004)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

270 p.; 7.56 inches

Media reviews

While a book like ''Faerie Wars'' diverts young readers from their daily lives, one like ''The City of Ember'' encourages them to tackle the most ambitious tasks. Hard work can save the day, it promises. It's an old-fashioned lesson that is somehow easier to swallow when delivered in a futuristic
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User reviews

LibraryThing member lilibrarian
Lina wants to be a messenger, delivering messages and packages all over her home city of Ember. She and her friend Doon, and engineer, discover a parchment that may describe a way out of their crumbling city.
LibraryThing member theokester
I may not have heard about this book had it not picked up a movie deal. And yet, now that I've read it, I'm torn as to whether or not I want to see the movie. Not because it's a bad book/story...quite the contrary. I'm worried that it could get ruined. I bought a copy for my brother for his
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birthday and the new edition includes pix from the movie. One picture included captures Bill Murray as the mayor during one of the opening scenes. Seeing that picture redeemed my hope...I think he could probably do a good job pulling off the pretentious and condescending demeanor required for the role. Hopefully the rest of the cast does well and hopefully the departures from the text are for the best. The book itself was very simplistic and obviously a children's book (8-10 is target age I believe), and yet it explores deeper themes and presents the characters intriguing and mature conflicts.

Characters, Setting, etc
The central character in the story is Lina, a young girl living in a city of darkness and dreaming of a city of light. Her character is interesting and powerful. She's not overly audacious, but she does have an adventurous spirit and once actions really start unfolding, her courage shines through and she is willing to make the tough decisions to move forward.

The other main protagonist, Doon, is a more presumptuous character. It's not so much that he has more audacity than Lina, it's just that his is unbridled while hers is restrained. He is impetuous and quick to rush in while she is thoughtful and meticulous.

I think the two protagonists serve as a good counterpoint to one another and the author does a good job of using them to help show children the need to take risks and be brave while also being judicious and thoughtful before taking wild risks.

Most of the secondary characters get very little fleshing out. Even the mayor is kept at a distance, though we get good insight into his actions and thoughts, enough so we can establish him as a counteragent to our protagonists despite his authoritative stance and his claims of doing what's best for the people.

Having seen the preview for the movie, I was able to deduce the state of the City of Ember. Trying to block that out, I enjoyed the portrayal of the city and its existence. The descriptions of the layout of the city and the darkness beyond was well done. I loved the detail used to explain many of the simple things we take for granted in our world.

Plot, Pacing, etc
The plot itself wasn't anything revolutionary, but the details and the execution were intriguing. We have a city surrounded by darkness. Its only light is provided by a river water run generator pumping electricity into the city, but since nobody in the city really understands electricity or how the generator works, the city is in peril since the generator is obviously breaking down.

The quick paced style and simple language helped the story move along quickly and I see how it could definitely hold the attention of a younger reader. As an adult, I think I would have liked some more twists and turns in the adventure but since the audience is children, I think the overall complexity is good. (This is my main point of worry for the movie...because the plot itself is relatively simple, I'm worried that the movie makers may ruin things by adding unnecessary complexity to appease adults)

I thought an interesting thematic element was making vocabulary and language be part of the obstacle Lina and Doon face. As Lina initially begins trying to understand the instructions she's found, she has difficulty plugging in the right words just because she may not have the same vocabulary as the adult that originally wrote it. Audience is always very key when selecting the language used in writing. Once Lina and Doon progress on their journey, they find new objects they don't understand. Even though the objects are labeled, these common objects are foreign to the children and they find themselves confused as to their intent. I applaud the author's insight to incorporate this subtle narrative on the evolution of knowledge and language in her story.

As I mentioned, I think the pacing was great and would do a good job of keeping a younger reader interested and engaged to the end. As I saw the pages fall out from underneath me, I began to be VERY worried as I neared the end of the novel that there would not be a good stopping point. In fact, the last 10-20 pages of the book flew by and tied up a lot of the material nicely while at the same time leaving many questions left unanswered and ready for a sequel. In fact, I'm glad I read this book years after its release because I desperately want to know what happens next and I'm glad I could just go grab the sequel now rather than waiting for it to be written.

I think this story is intriguing and wholesome and provides a good mental playground for child readers. I think the characters are accessible and the adventure is fun. The themes of the story are subtle but it provides good messages about teamwork, planning, and working things through. It's definitely not an anti-adult novel, but it does provide children a method of escaping to a world where the children are the heroes and they know and do better than the adults, perhaps due to their youthful exuberance, curiosity and passion.

I'm looking forward to continuing with the series and seeing the movie.

3 solid stars
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LibraryThing member PortM
I'm tempted to attribute the dumbed down world building, logic flaws, and flat characters to the fact that this is written as children's literature, but I've read far too many excellent stories in that category to accept that children don't need or deserve better. Much of the ignorance of the
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people of Ember is explained at the end - that the adults who were chosen to populate that world were under strict orders to not pass on knowledge of the world before, but that just seems like a cop-out to me. Children ask questions, and their caregivers didn't have anyone preventing them from answering after they were dropped off in Ember. There was no satisfactory explanation for why the Builders demanded that their history be erased. In fact, it's nonsensical, if they expected that their descendants would need to emerge from Ember and re-integrate into the outside world some 200 years later. This is just one of the many logical flaws that kept me disengaged from the book. The characters and their relationships with one another had no depth. Lina feels very little grief for her grandmother, and forgets her death almost immediately. She seems to feel very little for her sister except concern when the child wanders off and is lost. When she refuses to leave Ember without her sister later, it seems borne of a sense of responsibility rather than any actual connection. She might as well have been refusing to leave without her only pair of shoes. I finished the story mostly because it was on audio and kept me company while doing some chores around the house, but if I had been actually reading the book, I probably would have put it down halfway through and not picked it up again.
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LibraryThing member mom2lnb
I found The City of Ember to be a very entertaining read that is somewhat difficult to categorize. It is essentially part science fiction, part fantasy with healthy doses of adventure, suspense, and mystery thrown in for good measure. It has a rather post-apocalyptic feel to it with a little
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government conspiracy on the side, although since this is a children's book, it wasn't nearly as dark as most stories of that type. My sense of this theme was confirmed when I read on the author's website that part of her inspiration for the novel was her experiences growing up in the 1950's when many people were concerned about a possible nuclear war and were building bomb shelters just in case. Having grown up in an older house that had a bomb shelter, I could definitely relate. I also thought I detected a bit of an environmental message in the story, mainly fueled by Lina and Doon's fascination with the things of nature, which was also something that Jeanne DuPrau said she hoped would be conveyed in her narrative. Trying to figure out the mystery of what and where Ember is and why it was created was a lot of fun. Some of these details were disclosed by the end of the book and others were not, but Ms. DuPrau stated that the remaining mysteries would be revealed in the next book of the series, The People of Sparks. I also think there was a morality tale embedded in The City of Ember that explored the idea that there is both light and dark inside each one of us, and which we choose to follow can affect not only ourselves but those around us too. There is a bit of a spiritual aspect to the story as well in the form of The Believers who are essentially the religious pulse of Ember. I would have liked to learn a little more about them, and perhaps they will play a bigger role in future books in the series. Ultimately though, I thought that The City of Ember was a tale about hope, courage, determination and selflessness in the face of a crisis.

I really liked the two protagonists, Lina and Doon. They are only twelve years old when the book begins, but not unlike their counterparts in similar stories, they take on semi-adult roles. Lina is a very energetic, determined and strong girl who is a survivor and very responsible for her age, having taken on a lot of the care-giving duties for her baby sister after the deaths of the adults in her life. I think I was particularly taken by Doon, a very curious boy who is fascinated by all thing, both natural and mechanical. He loves to study the few living creatures he can find in Ember, mostly insects, and is equally eager and adept at taking things apart to figure out how they work and putting them back together again. Doon has a bit of a temper problem, but underneath it all he has a good and kind heart. I loved the advice his father gave him, “The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is..... And when anger is the boss, you get....unintended consequences." I thought it was a great adage for kids and adults alike who might struggle with anger issues. I also think that Doon has an underlying desire to "be somebody" or “do something important,” because he always seems to be waiting for that "big moment" to reveal the things he learns about Ember and admits later that it was probably the wrong thing to do. Maybe he even has a little bit of a hero complex. Overall though, Doon and Lina both were very likable characters. I was impressed with how the author shows them sometimes being tempted to do something that would be unethical, but in the end, they make the right decisions for the good of everyone in Ember and not just themselves.

This book is highly character driven, and Jeanne DuPrau has a talent for vividly describing the sights, sounds and environment of Ember as well as the way certain things make Doon and Lina feel. In fact, I found it interesting (and difficult) to imagine what absolute darkness feels like, since Ember has no light whatsoever during the blackouts and nighttime hours. While the plot of The City of Ember moves steadily forward, the lush portraits the author paints sometimes gives it a rather languid pace. It also starts out a little slow, taking a while to build the action and suspense. I personally like the rich descriptions and am well aware of the challenges in establishing the characters and setting for a fantasy world, so these things didn't really bother me. However, I could see how kids with shorter attention spans might get bored at times. If given a chance though, the story can definitely grab both the adult and child imagination. My daughter was not entirely pleased when I announced The City of Ember as my choice for our next book to read together, but about halfway in she was enjoying it, and by the end, she was begging for the sequel. I too am very eager to read the next book of the series, since The City of Ember did have what I would characterize as a cliffhanger ending. It is followed by The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. For a children's book that is aimed at tweens in the 9-12 year age range, The City of Ember certainly caught my adult attention and in doing so, has earned a spot on my keeper shelf.
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LibraryThing member jacobabear
This book was phenominal. Jeanne Duprau created an underground city named Ember. There is a mayor, jobs, and stores, just like a normal town. Except for the fact that its inhabitants don't realize theres also an outside to the Earth. Fortunately, Doon and Lina, friends in the city, find a scrap of
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paper while cleaning out Lina's dead grandmothers house, with directions on how to leave the town -- right as the power's about to go out too.

Read this book, if your looking for something to read, as it will keep you hooked all the way to the end.
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LibraryThing member kiwikowalski
One of the best things about The City of Ember is its versatility among age groups. It can be enjoyed by the young readers (8+) it was intended for and also by more adult audiences. When I first read it as a preteen, I appreciated the story as a great fantastical adventure. If you take the story at
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face value, any 12 year old would be amazed by and envious of the adventures and mysteries that befall Lina and Doon. The language and vocabulary of the book are easily read and understood by the preteen group. But when I read it again, now that I am older, I can understand it as a different story: it is a sort of social commentary about wastefulness, different civilizations, and the prospect of the future. It's not about frivolous adventures of middle-schoolers, but rather an example of young people trying to affect change in their community for the better, where there looks to be little to no hope. This could very easily be related to our current societal situation.

I was very excited to hear about the movie version of The City of Ember, especially since I have been a fan of this book for so long. The movie did an adequate job of depicting the story, but more of the adventurous aspects, and not really the undertones of social commentary that I picked up on from the book. I didn't think that the movie "ruined" the book, but it didn't do much to enhance it, though individuals who have never read the book would probably enjoy it for purely entertainment value. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone, but as a separate entity from the movie.
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LibraryThing member Aerrin99
Although written a bit younger than I had for some reason expected, City of Ember kept me locked in and interested. This is the tale of a city doomed to eternal darkness, trapped in a space they can never leave and reliant on a technology that is slowly failing them.

Amidst corruption, a panicking
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society, and an intense sense of a claustrophobic community, two children find a clue that leads to future possibilities.

The mystery here isn't deep, but it's perfectly written for an upper level elementary reader, who will find the word games and the 'wow, they don't know what boats are!' moments really interesting, I think. I found them enjoyable enough as an adult reader, and I see why this book is popular.
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LibraryThing member vanedow
12 year old friends Lina and Doon have never been outside the city of Ember. Everything around it is blackness, from which no one has ever returned. And Ember is completely self-sufficient, because the city's long-passed founders provided it with electric lamp posts to light the city and food for
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everyone. At least, it's always been that way. Now the lights are flickering more and more often, and rumor has it that the food might run out. When it seems that city officials are doing nothing to prevent the coming disaster, Lina and Doon take matters into their own hands. They attempt to solve a puzzle left behing by the city founders, a puzzle they believe holds the key to the city's salvation.

The City of Ember is the first book in a series of four by author Jeanne Duprau. And it's a pretty good start. The post-apocalyptic scenario dreamed up by Duprau is believable and interesting, giving our heroes a great backdrop for their adventures. Lina and Doon are an enjoyable if unlikely pairing. She's an energetic city message runner, and he's more of a quiet, thoughtful type. The characters really made this book for me, though the story is a good one.

This book is geared to younger teens and tweens, and I don't think it has quite the broad appeal of some YA books. I think it's great for those who already enjoy lots of YA, and for parents of kids in the 10-14 age range.
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LibraryThing member nEtVolution
Great book for tweens! My daughter loved it and begged me to read it. An enjoyable read that emphasizes the importance of community and life as well as the highlighting some of the dangerous elements that poison our society.
LibraryThing member YouthGPL
Kearsten says: This is one of those books about which I'd heard great things, but never got around to checking out. Now that it's being made (or has been?) into a movie, I figured it was time. And, wow, do I wish I'd tried it out sooner! It's fascinating, fast-paced and a bit creepy - which are all
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things I dig - though I also very much liked the two protagonists, Lina and Doon. Yes, it does end on a MAJOR cliff-hanger, it manages to both resolve one storyline while compelling you to read the next in the series in order to follow the *next* story. A great read! (And guess what book I'm immediately going to put on hold?)
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LibraryThing member emithomp
The City of Ember's blackouts are getting longer and it's up to Lina and Doon to figure out how to save everyone.
The question of what the human race is going to do when the world ends has interested dozens of writers. This book is another example of the genre, bit it takes everything one step
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further. It's the story of what to do when the world after the world ends is ending. The author's underground world is very detailed, especially the culture of saving and reusing everything again and again and again. Otherwise, it reads as a treasure hunt with the lead characters trying to decipher clues and follow the trail to a new life. It's a well-written treasure hunt, though. It also never gets preachy about what exactly happened to cause Ember to be built. The book leaves it to the reader to wonder exactly what happened.
This is a great book for middle school to high school, although high-level elementary school readers might also enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member PuffyBear
This story is about 2 kids called Doon and Lina. They live in an Underground city called Ember, but they don't know that. Lina finds out instructions out of Ember. So together Doon and Lina figure out a way out of Ember into another world.
LibraryThing member read-a-lots2
The City of Ember is one of the weirdest books I have read, but yet I liked. This book is nothing like you've read before. Two twelve year old children, Doon and Lina, are looking for a way out of Ember, the city they live in, that has a bad mayor, many secrets, food shortages, and most of all,
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lack of electricity. As worse comes to worse comes to worse, Lina and Doon must find away out of Ember, for the sake of themselfs and Embers citzens.
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LibraryThing member Cherizar
The City of Ember, first of a trilogy, is an underground, self-sufficient city. Now the city is struggling with limited resources and a growing questioning by a teen who wonders what lies above their city.
LibraryThing member ccavaleri
Good, short book for younger readers.
LibraryThing member amandawebster
The City of Ember seems to be the only light in a world of unending darkness, and now the lights are starting to flicker. Lina Mayfleet finds a puzzling document and Doon Harrow has made discoveries down in the Pipeworks. With these clues, the two attempt to save the city. The cliffhanger ending
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leaves readers wanting the next in the series.
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LibraryThing member whiteknight50
The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau is a story that is very endearing, imaginative and engaging. Within a page or two I was hooked. It is an easy, swift read that is perfect for those nights when life has been a bit too hard.

Ember is an underground city that is running out of resources. Lina and
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Doon, two children of the city, have reached the age of twelve, at which time all children of the City of Ember are assigned work. Lina and Doon become the city's saviors through their detective work, and are able to escape the failing City of Ember.

Recommended reading for a refreshing change.
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LibraryThing member bfet
Let’s journey into the future and discover what awaits us. The human population has been deeply hurt on earth by…could it possibly be World War Three? However, deep down below the earth’s soil lies a human civilization that was founded hundreds of years ago to ensure that there would always
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be humans on earth. The founders of this world set government rules, standards for living, and provided many resources. However, now many years later, the resources of the city are running out and the civilization is hitting a time of chaos. The lights of the city are flickering, something that has never happened in their recorded history. The life of the city is coming to and end. Hundreds of lives could come to and end if something is not done. But where is it in the founder’s instructions of what do when this catastrophe has occurred? There is no clear answer. But two children, Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet, feel that they could find the lost answer and save their world. But who is to believe only two children’s voices out of hundreds.
This is the story of The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. Her cleverly crafted novel of science fiction creates hard to believe, but not impossible, story. With simple, but good, language, this novel’s story will be promising to anyone willing to dive his or her nose into this city of the future. The world she creates is amazing, and the ending she leaves the reader hanging on to promises a good sequel to this hit.
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LibraryThing member marybeth_o
City of Ember was an amazing book. it kept me hooked the wole time. i loved trying to solve the mystery myself and i never wanted to put the book down. the characters are interesting. i recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a great book.
LibraryThing member Othemts
This book is the first part of a series about a subterranean city built for reasons not yet explained over 240 years before the events of the novel. By this time, the people of Ember have forgotten about their origins and are dealing with crumbling infrastructure and dwindling supplies (a very
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clear analogy to climate change). The protagonists of the novel are Lina and Dina, two young people who have reached the age where they are given their "Assignments," their jobs they have to do to contribute to the survival of the community (I don't think the novel specifies their age, but they seem to be around 12 years old). A curious pair, Lina and Doon piece together instructions left behind by the "Builders" of Ember, and find a way out of the underground city. They are a clever and likable duo, albeit a bit one-note. The plot is very simple but it should be readable for it's target age group. The book ends on a massive cliffhanger which makes of course makes me want to read the next book, but also a bit resentful because I didn't find the book engaging enough on its own to want to read more.
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LibraryThing member jbbarclay
In this book a class of children get assigned jobs in their city called Ember. While working their jobs one day, a young boy and young girl discover a new land outside of Ember. They explore the new land and find out that the city of Ember is actually a city underground below the rest of the world.
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They drop a note through a hole down to ember to tell the others about the new land they have discovered.
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LibraryThing member Jenson_AKA_DL
Doon and Lina have grown up in the City of Ember and now that they are 12 they are graduating from school to working members of the population. Doon wants a job that will allow him to save Ember as he knows his home is in grave danger, proven by the ever increasing blackouts and shortage of basic
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food and supplies. Lina wants to be a messenger, racing through the city she loves and exploring every nick and cranny. When Doon and Lina choose their jobs, fate grants each the job the other wants but soon none of this will matter, for age and corruption are ruining the city that they both love and soon all that matters is finding a way to save their people.

This was a very interesting and unique adventure that I believe seeks to inspire curiosity and urge children to find ways to save their world. For such a noble ideal it does not feel like a preachy tale and I greatly enjoyed it. The City of Ember was deftly described and the characters were well drawn. I'm very curious to find out what happened to the world that drove the founders of Ember deep underground and will probably pick up the sequel.
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LibraryThing member rakerman
For its target young audience, I think this book works very well: the story is imaginative but also simple and straight-forwardly told. For adults, it's hard to judge on its merits having seen the movie first. The movie is very well done, and very richly imagined, with details that aren't in the
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book, and additional elements in the plot. The book puts more emphasis, understandably, on the issues of shortage and consumerism... it is not heavy-handed in this at all, but to an adult it pretty clearly drawn parable about how our society is dealing with declining resources, including a criticism of a faith-based 'it will all be ok' approach. Overall the story is well-told and entertaining.
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LibraryThing member MrsSClass
This book is about people that are living in an underground gets a little boring at sometimes but its an ok book i guess.
LibraryThing member mdyewhea
The City of Ember is actually an elaborate underground bunker built many years ago to preserve the last of the human race from the war and plague raging above ground. Now, generations later, no one in Ember knows that there is a world above, or what is beyond the lights that illuminate the city
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from 6am-9pm, every single day. What they do know is they are running out of supplies and having power failures (which means they are surrounded by complete darkness) more and more often. Something must be done, but what?
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½ (2559 ratings; 3.8)
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