Friday, October 10, 2014

City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau

This book I picked up because my 4th grader's teacher is reading it aloud to the class. As my daughter was describing this book, it seemed like some sort of futuristic dystopian or alternate universe type of society. Naturally, I was curious, and naturally, I was slightly concerned having read an abundance in this genre and worried about the content and it's appropriateness for her age group. Her current teacher is an exchange teacher from Australia, but the regular classroom teacher (who will return after the Christmas break) had copies of The Hunger Games in his room, which I do NOT feel are appropriate for 4th graders! That was the whole reason I was a bit cautious.

But I was pleasantly surprised! The main characters are 12, getting their job assignments as they join the adults in the workforce of society. (Seriously, WHAT is with the age of 12 that is SO significant that MANY dystopian societies have some sort of ritual at the age of 12. If it's not 12 it's 16). The jobs are chosen by pulling out a strip of paper out of a bag. So the technology isn't very great. It's also very dark where they live. There is no natural source of light. Their civilization has been in existence for over 200 years but somehow the storehouses are running low. They were supposed to never run out. The Builders built their city. At the very beginning you learn that the builders also included a box with a timed lock that was to open on its own when the time was right. It was to be passed down from mayor to mayor. However, an epidemic sweeps through the population, a coughing sickness, and one mayor, desperate for relief from the sickness thinks the box might contain the answers, but try as he might, he couldn't get it open. Then instead of passing it down to the next mayor, it gets put in a closet and open on its own when the time came.

Lina is the protagonist along with her friend Doon. They each draw a job the other wants, so they trade (I kept waiting for them to get in trouble for trading, but it never happens; I guess they don't care WHO is doing each job just so long as the jobs get done). They together find things that no one else is looking for, and are concerned with finding solutions for the increasing black outs their city experiences. They are becoming more frequent and more lengthy.

Another topic this book approaches is when adults make wrong decisions. Lina and Doon are trusting of adults, and when they have vital information, their first thought is to take it to the adults in charge. They assume that the adults will do the right thing. But of course, this current mayor is corrupt (that isn't a giveaway, you get that idea from the first chapter), but the idea that it never occurred to the children I think is identifiable in most kids who would be reading this book. There ARE times when adults don't make the right decisions. And it's important not for kids to be wary of the adults in their lives, but to learn how to read a person's character and listen to their inner voice that will warn them of shady people who would do them harm. I think this is a topic that could be discussed in broader terms to relate to life experiences that might occur in our world today.

I can't say much more without giving away too much, but it was very clever, very age appropriate, good paced, entertaining and though provoking. It is part of a series of books, referred to as The Books of Ember. There are 4 books, and a review says The conclusion is everything a series closer should be, satisfying but provocative. —Horn Book Magazine 

The first book has been made into a movie as well. My daughter read the Graphic Novel, but I'm going to make her wait till her class finishes the book before checking the movie out from the library. Purist that I am :-)

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