This is a book that haunted me for years.

A girl lives on a very low level of an ant-hill-like society where most people live underground (supposedly due to a polluted surface). Most of the people around her are bred to be low-intelligence or are possibly the descendants of political prisoners. She is intelligent so she often gets in trouble. The levels of the underground world correspond to a class system, with the aristocracy living on the highest levels. There is a classroom scene where she is forced to watch videos over and over about how to tie her shoes.

A boy mysteriously shows up from the surface of the planet (his parents are farmers?) and together they escape to the surface and she learns everything she has been told is wrong and she was actually part of a subterranean slave society.

Ring any bells?


3 Answers 3


I think that it's This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover. Just read it again last year when I found it on a shelf at my parents' house. Everything sounds right apart from the shoe laces bit but perhaps I forgot that bit.


City of Ember is a good idea -- a lot of similarities -- but it does not correspond well to the remembered details of the question. (I read CoE recently, with my kid.) I think user13284 is correct. Here is publisher's blurb from Amazon:

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. Is Axel crazy? Amy knows there is no such place as Outside.

But what if there were? What would it be like?

Curious, Amy convinces Axel to escape. What she hopes to find is something Axel remembers called freedom. But what she discovers is beyond her wildest dreams.

  • BTW, I had to make this an answer, because it was too long for a comment. In case anyone is wondering.
    – dmm
    Dec 13, 2013 at 22:53

that may be City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

  • Could you flesh this answer out by describing what elements in City of Ember match the question's description?
    – user1027
    Mar 22, 2013 at 18:21

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