Book review

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (2004)

Do you worry about how quickly the rich countries of the world are gobbling up all the natural resources?

Try this.Here's somegood news: think of the world as a well-stocked supermarket. Now the bad news:the supermarket is running low on stock. There is very little left on the shelves.

What will you do, when the supermarket is empty and you're about to be left standing in the dark, cold and hungry? Will you be one of the angry mob, standing around waiting for someone to tell you what to do next? Will you be one of the last greedy ones, busy stockpiling for yourself up to the last minute? It won't help of course, you'll still starve in the end.Or will you be off the starting block trying to sort something out for everyone, to make the world a better place again?

That's what this story is about, literally. The City of Ember was built centuries ago to protect the last of the human race from extinction. In deep vaults below the city vast storerooms were built which stocked everything the people of the city might need: food, clothes, tools, stationery. When Lina's granny was young the bulging storerooms were such a splendid sight that schoolchildren were taken on tours of inspection. But things are different now. The tinned pineapple gave out a long time ago. Light bulbs are scarce, and the generator is a bit ropey. Blackouts are becoming frequent...and won't there come a moment when the lights go out and simply never come on again? It frightens Lina. It frightens everyone. But something else is bothering Lina too:

She thought about the mayor, down in his room full of plunder, gorging on peaches and asparagus and wrapping his huge body in elegant new clothes. She thought of his great stack of light bulbs and shook her head in bewilderment. What was he thinking? If he still had light bulbs when everyone else in Ember had run out, would he enjoy sitting in his lit room while the rest of the city drowned in darkness? And when the power finally ran out for good, all his light bulbs would be useless. Possessions couldn't save him - how could he have forgotten that?

The point is, it doesn't really work if you simply try to save yourself. Survival turns out to be ajoint thing.But it isn't easy. Nobody knows what to do.

It isn't a complex story, but I found the politics of greed horribly fascinating, laid out for me in simple language, that I couldn't fail to understand. Brilliant!

What can I read next?

Excellent. Another glimpse into a savage future.

This is Jeanne DuPrau's first novel for children, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a sequel. There's plenty of room here, so watch this space...

If you enjoy thinking about the future, you might like to have a look at this book by Lois Lowry:

Or this first novel by Conor Kostick whichrang a few alarm bells for me:

And I loved this one by Nina Bawden:

Or you might cast your eye over Tom Pow's view of the future:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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