THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne DuPrau

I recently stumbled upon an old secondhand copy of THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne DuPrau that I’d once bought somewhere—a garage sale, I think it was—having found the film reasonably entertaining. I was surprised at how warmly I felt towards this children’s book upon reading it. To summarise it suggests a familiar genre feel: two twelve-year-olds must save their city, which is falling apart in a post-apocalyptic world which has lost its memory of the past. But it has a quiet, serious simplicity which I think sets it apart. In many respects the book is an elegantly crafted puzzle box, and a love letter to scientific literacy, in a first principles sense of the phrase. Lina and Doon can only rescue themselves by paying careful attention to the physical world around them and teasing out—partly with method and persistence, and partly with simple luck—the natural mysteries of existence. Their longing for something real and important, for an honest understanding which is practical, and can be shared, is powerfully contrasted against the temptations of status climbing and acquisition, embodied, in this strange new economy, in cans of peaches and colour pencils. As a children’s allegory for true-heartedness in the face of corruption, it is remarkably clear without being trite. I am looking forward to the second book in the series.

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