Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: The City of Ember

As my year of attempting to read 52 books in 52 weeks is rapidly coming to a close, I continue to look for more interesting reads to inspire me, make me think, and bring me some joy.  And of course a little brain candy is good for you!  

Two of my favorite people in my book club offered up the book The City of Ember as a recommendation.  While this is considered a children's book recommended for ages 9-12, its topic is rather serious.  The book opens with some people known as "The Builders" inserting a message for the people of Ember into a box.  The box is to be entrusted to the mayor and will open on its own in 200 years.  When the box comes into the hands of the seventh mayor, he removes the box from its hiding place, takes it home, and attempts to open it in the hope that it will offer some cure for the "coughing sickness" that is afflicting him and many other people in Ember.  He fails to open the box, and dies before returning it to its spot.  The box and its contents remain a mystery and come to rest in the back of a closet.

The book fast forwards to the year 241.  Lina Mayfleet is 12 and has completed her schooling.  She await the mayor's arrival at her classroom where she will receive her job assignment in the city of Ember.  Ember is a city engulfed in complete darkness, only lit by street lights and the lights inside buildings.  There are frequent blackouts, however, because the city's power comes from an old generator that is in ill repair.  The city is gradually deteriorating.  Rumors of food and supply shortages are rampant.  The clothes washing machines that used to clean the clothes now have to be agitated by hand.  Everything is saved so it can be resold.  The one thing Lina wants is to receive the job assignment of "messenger"---the people who run from one person to another delivering messages for money.  Instead of drawing the messenger job, Lina is assigned to the Pipeworks as a water and sewerage repair assistant.  A childhood friend Doon gets her coveted messenger job and offers to trade.  Then the real story begins...

I enjoyed this book and it reminded me a lot of Lois Lowry's The Giver with a smidge of the movie Logan's Run.  There are so many questions that need to be answered in this book.  What's in the box?  Where is Ember?  Can they escape?  Should they even try?

There were some really interesting details that the author included that I enjoyed.  The city's library is filled with books only written by the people who have lived since Ember was founded.  While looking for a book about fire in the library, Doon discovers a book called "Mysterious Words from the Past."  One of the words referenced is "hogwash."  The entry states "means nonsense, though no one knows what a hog is or why one would wash it."  Another passage that I found interesting and touching is when Lina finds out that a store owner has some colored pencils.  Pencils have become rare and colored ones are nearly unheard of.  He's charging $5 for each pencil when it only costs $7 to get a coat.  Lina wants them so bad she buys a blue and green.  She later, coincidentally, uses the blue pencil to color the sky of a picture she's drawing even though she has never seen the sky before.

After reading the book, I discovered that it had been made into a movie starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins in 2008.  I don't remember hearing of it, but now I'll have to get it from the library.  Here's the trailer:

While clearly written for children, this book definitely posed some questions that are important for adults to think about too.  What would happen if the Earth were no longer inhabitable.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  What can we do to make sure that the future is safe for our children and grandchildren?  I think I smell a future read aloud for Red and I.


Sock Monkey Mommy said...

Do you think we could have a girl's night when you get the movie? What a great idea.

The Uglies quartet is a dystopic future story too. But I love the idea of our future being altered possibly by what we choose today.

Looks like you found a great book! :)

herdingcats said...

I did not know there was a movie! I read the book and it's sequel and prequel I think. I would love to see the movie!