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The City of Ember


The City of Ember Cover




The Instructions

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.”

“And will we tell the mayor what’ s in the box?” the Assistant asked.

“No, just that it’s information they won’t need and must not see until the box opens of its own accord.”

“So the first mayor will pass the box to the next mayor, and that one to the next, and so on down through the years, all of them keeping it secret, all that time?”

“What else can we do?” asked the Chief Builder. “Nothing about this endeavor is certain. There may be no one left in the city by then or no safe place for them to come back to.”

So the first mayor of Ember was given the box, told to guard it carefully, and solemnly sworn to secrecy. When she grew old, and her time as mayor was up, she explained about the box to her successor, who also kept the secret carefully, as did the next mayor. Things went as planned for many years. But the seventh mayor of Ember was less honorable than the ones who’d come before him, and more desperate. He was ill–he had the coughing sickness that was common in the city then–and he thought the box might hold a secret that would save his life. He took it from its hiding place in the basement of the Gathering Hall and brought it home with him, where he attacked it with a hammer.

But his strength was failing by then. All he managed to do was dent the lid a little. And before he could return the box to its official hiding place or tell his successor about it, he died. The box ended up at the back of a closet, shoved behind some old bags and bundles. There it sat, unnoticed, year after year, until its time arrived, and the lock quietly clicked open.

Chapter 1

Assignment Day

In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great floodlamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds.

Sometimes darkness fell in the middle of the day. The city of Ember was old, and everything in it, including the power lines, was in need of repair. So now and then the lights would flicker and go out. These were terrible moments for the people of Ember. As they came to a halt in the middle of the street or stood stock still in their houses, afraid to move in the utter blackness, they were reminded of something they preferred not to think about: that some day the lights of the city might go out and never come back on.

But most of the time life proceeded as it always had. Grown people did their work, and younger people, until they reached the age of twelve, went to school. On the last day of their final year, which was called Assignment Day, they were given jobs to do.

The graduating students occupied Room 8 of the Ember School. On Assignment Day of the year 241, this classroom, usually noisy first thing in the morning, was completely silent. All twenty-four students sat upright and still in the desks they had grown too big for. They were waiting.

The desks were arranged in four rows of six, one behind the other. In the last row sat a slender girl named Lina Mayfleet. She was winding a strand of her long, dark hair around her finger, winding and unwinding it again and again. Sometimes she plucked at a loose thread on her ragged cape or bent over to pull on her socks, which were loose and tended to slide down around her ankles. One of her feet tapped the floor softly.

In the second row was a boy named Doon Harrow. He sat with his shoulders hunched, his eyes squeezed shut in concentration, and his hands clasped tightly together. His hair looked rumpled, as if he hadn’t combed it for a while. He had dark, thick eyebrows, which made him look serious at the best of times, and when he was anxious or angry came together to form a straight line across his forehead. His brown corduroy jacket was so old that its ridges had flattened out.

Both the girl and the boy were making urgent wishes. Doon’s wish was very specific. He repeated it over and over again, his lips moving slightly, as if he could make it come true by saying it a thousand times. Lina was making her wish in pictures rather than in words. In her mind’s eye, she saw herself running through the streets of the city in a red jacket. She made this picture as bright and real as she could.

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Sarah Gilbert, November 17, 2010 (view all comments by Sarah Gilbert)
A fast read and one that keeps the ugliness -- and the beauty and ingenuity -- of humanity close to the surface. It's certainly not a classic; four stars is for a young reader, who will devour this as a kind of intro-to science fiction, modern in tone and global conflicts. it's enough of a nailbiter to keep anyone reading through to the end; the puzzle aspect will interest readers who are into that sort of thing (I am) and enough what-ifs to keep adults engaged.
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Shoshana, May 2, 2010 (view all comments by Shoshana)
It may seem like an oxymoron to call this middle reader title a sweet little dystopian novel, but that's what it is. This first in a series of four introduces Ember, an underground city developed and populated in the face of potential holocaust to safeguard a tiny fraction of the human race. In this it is reminiscent of Mordechai Roshwald's classic Level 7. Unlike Roshwald's tragic Officer X-127, DuPrau's Lina is a young adolescent with a community, a job, and relationships. Here the threat to the underground safe house is not related to the war but to the failure of the physical infrastructure. The actions of a greedy leader several generations before led to the misplacing and later mangling of the revelatory document that would have explained events and provided egress instructions to the denizens of Ember. Lina and Doon, a boy about her age, discover evidence of more greed and misuse of power, while also following clues that may save themselves and their community.

A theme that is present in at least the first three books but not elaborated upon is that small-scale individual greed, corruption, or suspicion of others may have dire consequences for large numbers of people.
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biscuitspaddy, January 27, 2009 (view all comments by biscuitspaddy)
I love reading and writing. I have not read The City Of Ember, but have seen the movie. Before I even heard about the movie or the book, I started writing a book with exactly the same storyline! (Great minds think alike.) I plan to read the book very soon.
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Product Details

DuPrau, Jeanne
HMH Books for Young Readers
Booraem, Ellen
Lowry, Lois
New York
Action & Adventure
Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic
Science fiction
Children's 9-12 - Fiction - Science Fiction
Children's 12-Up - Fiction - Science Fiction
Action & Adventure - General
Fantasy & Magic
Imaginary places
Situations / General
General Juvenile Fiction
Children s-Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Giver;Lowry;dystopian;utopian;society;community;novel;fantasy;1994 Newbery M
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Giver Quartet
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 7
Black-and-white illustrations
7.63 x 5.13 in
Age Level:

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Related Subjects

Children's » Action and Adventure » Adventure Stories
Children's » Middle Readers » General
Children's » Science Fiction and Fantasy » General
Children's » Science Fiction and Fantasy » Science Fiction

The City of Ember Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Random House Books for Young Readers - English 9780375822742 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Reminiscent of post-apocalypse fiction like Robert O'Brien's Z for Zachariah, DuPrau’s book leaves Doon and Lina on the verge of the undiscovered country and readers wanting more.”
"Review" by , “The cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next installment."
"Review" by , "[T]he quick pace and the uncomplicated characters and situations will keep voracious fans of the genre engaged."
"Review" by , "Readers will relate to Lina and Doon's resourcefulness and courage in the face of ominous odds."
"Synopsis" by , The thrilling and long-awaited conclusion to the Giver Quartet.
"Synopsis" by , They called her Water Claire. When she washed up on their shore, no one knew that she came from a society where emotions and colors didnt exist. That she had become a Vessel at age thirteen. That she had carried a Product at age fourteen. That it had been stolen from her body. Claire had a son. But what became of him she never knew. What was his name? Was he even alive? She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. Now Claire will stop at nothing to find her child, even if it means making an unimaginable sacrifice. Son thrusts readers once again into the chilling world of the Newbery Medal winning book, The Giver, as well as Gathering Blue and Messenger where a new hero emerges. In this thrilling series finale, the startling and long-awaited conclusion to Lois Lowrys epic tale culminates in a final clash between good and evil.
"Synopsis" by ,
Medford lives on a neat, orderly island calledand#8212;simplyand#8212;Island.

and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Islanders like names that say exactly what a thing (or a person) is or does. Medford Runyuin is different. A foundling, he has a meaningless name that is just one of many reminders that heand#8217;s an outsider. He also has a secret that could get him banished from Island forever.

and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; A strange creature is about to arrive on Island, and Medfordand#8217;s secret will be out before he can blink twice.


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