Thursday, November 08, 2007

What Happens When A Child of the Shadows Comes Out Into the Light?

What would you do if you discovered a child whose parents kept him hidden in the attic at all times? What if they never allowed him outdoors, forbade him to go to school or anywhere in public, and didn't even set a place for him at the dinner table? What if they denied his existence to even their friends and family? You'd be dialing Child Protective Services, wouldn't you? Now imagine that the child is being hidden away for his own protection. Imagine he is a third child in a world that only allows couples to produce two kids each. Imagine that his discovery could lead to trouble with the government, and possibly even to his death. What do you do now? If you're a member of the Garner family, you pretend you have no son or younger brother.

In Among the Hidden, the first book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, we meet Luke Garner, a 6-year-old "Third" who doesn't officially exist. He spends most of his time in his house with the shades drawn. Although he's allowed out of his attic bedroom, he must be ready to run for it if anyone should knock on the door. He lives in mortal fear of the Population Police. Fortunately for Luke, his family's hog farm sits in an isolated area, surrounded by heavy woods, so he's at least allowed out into the backyard. That is until the Government decides to plow down the trees and build fancy new homes for the rich "Barons." The Garners panic at the first sight of construction, banishing Luke to the attic; even at meals he is forced to sit on the attic stairs, away from the windows. When the Government decides to stop letting the Garners raise pigs, Luke's mother is forced to take a factory position, leaving Luke home alone all day, without even the backyard as a refuge.

More isolated and lonely than ever, Luke takes to spying on his new neighbors. One day, he makes a shocking discovery - he sees a young face in a window, long after the inhabitants have left for school and work. He knows he's found another Third. Desperate for a friend, Luke creeps out of his house and into his neighbor's home. What he finds is Jen Talbot, a feisty Baron who's not content with hiding out in her house, opulent though it may be. Since Mr. Talbot is a Government employee, the family has access to the Internet, which Jen has used to set up a chat room for other Thirds. Luke is astonished to find that not only is there another Third in his neighborhood, but there are thousands across the nation. Jen is using her computer to gather them for a rally at the president's house. Although Luke wants freedom just as much as Jen does, her rashness scares him. He's putting himself in enough danger just sneaking over to Jen's to hang out. When the rally ends in tragedy, Luke fears that Thirds will never receive the freedom they crave. He knows he can do nothing to change his fate, or can he?

I always find the premises of Haddix's novels interesting. This one is no exception. As a young adult book, this one was too quick to explore all of the moral issues brought up by the premise, but Haddix did a pretty good job tackling them. As always, she couches the big questions (Is it right for the government to control a country's population? How do we evenly distribute goods so that no one goes hungry?) in a taut, action-packed plot. I love that she focuses primarily on the story, letting the moral issues subtly bubble to the surface. Despite these layers, Among the Hidden is still kind of a bare bones novel, so hopefully the sequels will continue to flesh out the story. I'll definitely be reading them to find out what happens to Luke and whether or not he can change the world for himself and the other Shadow Children.

Grade: B

5 comments:

  1. These Haddix books are very popular in our branch of the library. I keep meaning to read them.

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  2. The first time I ran across this book I thought it sounded very intriguing and wanted to read it. I just never got around to it. I actually have it on my List of Possibilities for the 1st in a Series Challenge. Maybe one day I'll actually pick it up. I'm glad you liked it. :)

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  3. Kay - The copy I borrowed from the library was really tattered - it was literally falling apart as I read! So, I guess it's a popular book.

    Joy - It's a very quick, easy read. Even if you hate it, you won't have wasted too much time. It's a good little read though - I liked it.

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  4. I really love Margaret Peterson Haddix. This was the first Haddix I'd ever read, and I loved it. I mean LOVED it. I've since read through all the Haddix books at my local library. I would encourage everyone to read at least one Haddix book though! She's a true must-read in my opinion. I just love how those *ethical* deep thoughts are provoked without hitting you over the head.

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  5. i agree with Becky that Haddix is a must-read! i enjoyed this entire series. Turnabout and Just Ella are two others of hers that i particularly enjoyed.

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