The city of Ember is in trouble, but the complacent citizens seem to ignore the food shortages and frequent blackouts. The Builders, when they created the city some 241 years ago, made provisions for its citizens in the form of a note called "The Instructions." Unfortunately, The Instructions were not handed down through the generations as they were supposed to be, and suddenly 12-year old Lina, a city Messenger, has discovered them. After trying to tell her friends and even the Mayor about the discovery of the partially destroyed Instructions, Lina turns to a one-time school friend, Doon, a worker in the underground Pipeworks, whom she believes will understand their importance. But what can two children do with such important information, and who would even believe them?
The City of Ember is a clever novel which tells the unique story of two unintentional heroes who fight the status quo in order to bring hope to their city. The descriptions of the world of Ember are fascinating, leaving the reader to appreciate the incredible imagination of first-time novelist Jeanne DuPrau. The narrator thoughtfully informs us of the setting-the unusual and self-contained world of Ember-slowly throughout the novel, and not all at once in the first chapter. It's only in chapter 8 that we even realize that there are no animals in Ember and the words "heaven" and "boat" have no known meaning. The characters are outstandingly original yet touchingly familiar in their pre-pubescent views of the adult world. The deaths of Lina's parents and then custodial grandmother create a sympathy for her that causes us to, all the more, wish for her triumph. It is the curiosity of Lina and Doon that drive this narrative, and it is the nice balance between primary and secondary characters that keeps the reader on his/her toes. While we expect a happy ending, it's not until the final pages of the novel that we understand what has happened and why. And, as always, we forgive a good author for the blatant suggestions of a sequel.