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The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I stumbled upon this book at the library and brought it home because I wanted to read a quick novel and it had been a while since I had read any juvenile fiction aside from what I’ve read aloud to my girls.  I have a real affinity for utopian/dystopian/apocalyptic novels, especially when I can draw a message out of them, so I was drawn into The City of Ember from the very first page.

This is the story of Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, twelve year old children who live in Ember, which is a city that depends entirely upon artificial light.  Ember is a dying city.  Many of its citizens have died from an epidemic, their supplies are dwindling, and even the light that they rely on is running out.  Lina and Doon have just received their job assignments, which is customary for children in their last year of schooling in Ember.  Lina is given the job of messenger, and Doon finagles to get a job he covets–that of pipeworks worker.  Doon desires to work underground in the pipeworks because that is the location of the generator, and he feels certain that he can figure out a way to repair the unreliable generator and thereby save Ember.

Lina happens upon a message from the original Builders of Ember, and although she only salvages part of the message, she knows enough to know that it must be about the future of Ember.  She and Doon, then, join forces and begin a mad race to decipher the message and save Ember.

I could not help but draw some spiritual parallels between this story and Christianity.  I do not want to plant a message in a book when none is there, but certainly, as a reader I am free to draw my own conclusions.  First, Lina, Doon, and others in the story are convinced that there must be something else–another world, perhaps–out there, but they’re not sure where or how to get to it.  Clary, a worker in the greenhouse, gives Lina a bean to sprout and tells her,

Stick the bean in here and water it every day [. . .] It looks like nothing, like a little white stone, but inside it there’s life.  That must be a sort of clue, don’t you think?  If we could just figure it out.  (69)

This reminds me of Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Then there is the obvious parallel between the fading light or darkness of Ember and spiritual darkness.  Clary, Lina’s wise friend, also tells her this:

There is so much darkness in Ember, Lina.  It’s not just outside, it’s inside us, too.  Everyone has some darkness inside. It’s like a hungry creature.  It wants and wants and wants with a terrible power.  And the more you give it, the bigger and hungrier it gets. (168)

This story even has Believers in it.  What they believe in is undefined, but whatever it is, it makes them joyful and expectant.  It also has the “eat, drink, and be merry” crowd (Luke 12:19) who believe that “everything was hopeless anyhow [so they should] live it up while they could” (179).

Although there is no savior in this story, Lina and Doon do make a discovery that can rescue the people of Ember.  However, DuPrau sets the story up for sequels, so many of these spiritual implications are left unanswered.  I am very much interested in reading further in this series to see where she takes it.

I have also learned that there is a movie based on this book, which I will definitely be on the look out for for a future date night with Steady Eddie.

I really enjoyed The City of Ember and would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a suspenseful and thought-provoking story.

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One Response

  1. I’d heard good things about this book, picked it up from the library the other day and then felt so pressurised by all the good books that I’d had and were waiting to be read, that I returned all of the books unread and decided to start over. I think I’ll have to go back for this one. It sounds like it’s worth it.

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