This has been bugging me for years. I checked it out from the juvie fiction section of the library in Texarkana, Texas, probably around 1990 or so, but can't say when it would have been written. Here's all I remember (sorry so vague, but I have to try!):

The protagonist, whom I believe is a female, lives in an underground compound in a dystopian future. Reading and books are completely banned, and everyone is led to believe, falsely, that the outside world is toxic in some way (can't remember if it's pollution, nuclear fallout, UV exposure, or what). I remember descriptions of the enclosures like they are skyscrapers with long hallways, small family unit apartments, only with no windows. Lots of stories/levels, and where the "commoners" live are the lowest levels, as the upper stories are restricted or authorized acccess only.

The protagonist, however, knows how to read, because her grandmother had secreted away a children's picture dictionary and taught her the basics. Her and a friend decide to sneak up onto the upper restricted-access levels, and find they are able to do so because she can read the signs, while none of the other proles can.

There is some sort of communication/physical access to the outside from the upper levels; specifically, some sort of conveyor belt. She inadvertently gets on the belt and cannot go back, so ends up "outside", where she finds people are actually living quite normal lives. I can't recall if her friend comes with her here. She sees green grass/blue sky, etc. for the first time and discovers that her whole society has been lied to and confined to the underground, except for these lucky ones who have escaped. However, there is no way for her to go back to tell anyone else.

Forever grateful if someone can scratch this itch...I'll owe you a drink should you be in/ever come visit Seattle :)

  • 2
    That is so familiar... I am sure I have read it too, but no name is coming to mind.
    – geoffc
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 13:11
  • I recall a story that might not be this one... They had a computer voice in their heads that provided instructions/teaching, so they didn't need to read. One point that comes to mind is that they tried to cross a "street" at a time when the signs said cross and the computer didn't, and that raised suspicion
    – Sparr
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 13:42
  • This sounds interesting. Sounds a lot like Wool by Hugh Howey, but that came out recently, so I'm sure that's not it.
    – Zoe
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 22:07
  • 1
    The ur-story on the theme of people in an underground city who don't know the war has ended is Philip K. Dick's “The Defenders” and his fixup The Penultimate Truth. But that doesn't have the “no writing” and female protagonist aspects.
    – user56
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 22:58
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Dystopian novel from the late 80s: Michael and a girl living underground, escape to the surface - let's close in this direction rather and I shall flag the other question to have the target updated
    – fez
    Commented Apr 5 at 12:29

1 Answer 1


Is it This Time of Darkness, by the same author as Children of Morrow?

Eleven-year-old Amy lives in a decaying underground city. Ignored by her mother and under surveillance by authorities because she can read, Amy reluctantly finds herself befriending Axel, a strange boy who claims to have come from a mythical place called Outside.

  • YES YES YES! That is it! Thanks a million :) The description on GoodReads nails it, and it was written in 1980 which fits my mind's timeline of when I would have checked it out. Published the same year I was born which is kinda cool. It's out of print but I'm gonna track a copy of it down. It's fun to see that lots of folks on goodreads were equally impressed by it as kids and came back seeking it out years later.
    – Holly
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 1:08
  • YAY! I'd never read it myself, but I had read the same author's Children of Morrow which has a fairly similar set-up. Next time I'm in Seattle (read: the USA) I'll swing buy for that drink ;)
    – AK77
    Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 17:43
  • Thanks from me as well -- been scratching my head to remember details for ages ;-)
    – Matt R
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 18:40

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