Thursday, September 17, 2009

Middle-Grade Review: Book of Ember series

A few weeks ago, we watched the movie version of The City of Ember, and I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to finally read the books, written by Jeanne DuPrau, that my son told me were very good. I wasn’t disappointed. I read Book 1, The City of Ember, and Book 2, The People of Sparks, so quickly that I went out and bought Book 3, The Prophet of Yonwood, for my son’s birthday. Of course, I managed to read it before he did! Now, the hard part will be to tell you about the series without giving too much of the plot away.

The series begins with Lina Mayfleet, a 12-year old girl, and Doon Harrow, a 12-year old boy, who are both residents of the strange city of Ember. Ember has no natural light and relies on a mysterious generator to create the power needed to light Ember and run all of its electric devices. We learn in a brief prologue that Ember was created by a group of builders:

When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.

“They must not leave the city for at least two hundred years,” said the chief builder. “Or perhaps two hundred and twenty.”

“Is that long enough?” asked his assistant.

“It should be. We can’t know for sure.”

“And when the time comes,” said the assistant, “how will they know what to do?”

“We’ll provide them with instructions, of course,” the chief builder replied.

“But who will keep the instructions? Who can we trust to keep them safe and secret all that time?”

“The mayor of the city will keep the instructions,” said the chief builder. “We’ll put them in a box with a timed lock, set to open on the proper date.”

But over the long years, the instructions are lost.

The story opens on Assignment Day, the day that all 12-year olds in Ember receive their job assignment that marks the beginning of their adult lives. Lina loves to run and explore the city and wants to be a messenger, while Doon wants to work underground in the Pipeworks where the generator is located. The power in Ember has begun to fail, and the increasingly frequent blackouts have everyone scared. Doon wants to try to fix the generator and save his city.

Book 2, The People of Sparks, continues the story of Lina and Doon and provides some hints as to what happened 200 years ago that inspired the builders to create Ember in the first place. It also explores how differences between people can lead to conflict and violence. Book 3, The Prophet of Yonwood, is a prequel that takes place before the city of Ember is built and populated, providing clues as to what led to the creation of Ember, as it tells the story of a small town where one woman sees a vision of the future to come.

The whole series is well written, suspenseful, and imaginative. DuPrau creates a future world that is both cautionary and hopeful, populated with realistic characters that will appeal to both boys and girls. You’ll cheer Lina and Doon on, as they work to save their people. Book 4, The Diamond of Darkhold, was just released at the end of August. I can’t wait to read it!

Random House Books for Young Readers
Yearling Paperbacks

Accelerated Reader:
The City of Ember - level 5, 9 points
The People of Sparks – level 4.9, 11 points
The Prophet of Yonwood – level 4.9, 9 points

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