By Jeanne DuPrau
Pros: realistic character motivations, interesting plot and setting
Cons: a bit slow at times, unrealistic storage time and use of canned goods, etc.
Ember is a city underground. Its people live in buildings and use electricity and goods prepared for them by the Builders. But the city is old. The stored food and supplies are running out. And the generator is slowly failing.
Lina Mayfleet is a new messenger in the city. She uncovers a mystery that might lead to the exit of Ember and the survival of her people. Towards this end, she refriends Doon Harrow, whose job in the pipeworks has allowed him to uncover a few mysteries as well.
The plot is straightforward. The city is failing and only a few people are actively looking for a solution. And unlike some children's books with child protagonists who save the day, The City of Ember's scenario is plausible. I could understand the adult's desire to keep the status quo, to hope that life could continue the way it always had. Meanwhile the antagonists are merely people looking out for their interests about those of the others in the city. Again, perfectly plausible.
The one thing that is not plausible is the idea that canned food, vitamins and other items can last 200+ years and remain usable. But most children won't notice this and as an adult reading the book it didn't detract from the story.
The story proceeds slowly, allowing for development of Lina and Doon. You get a good feel for the city and some of the citizens' attitudes. The blackouts are shown to be suitably horrifying, emphasizing the need for an exodus.
And like the children they are, both Lina and Doon want the attention and admiration of their elders, causing them to make some inadvisable decisions.
A great novel for children. It teaches a few good lessons without being preachy.