Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Haddix produces a thought-provoking beginning book with Among the Hidden. The series, called The Shadow Children, is seven books long and Among the Hidden introduces Luke Garner to the readers.

While the plot of the first book is pretty mundane and somewhat slow moving, it does serve to create a world in which each family is only allowed to have two children. Haddix hints at the ideas of population control (through a corrupt and over-reaching government) and caste systems as a way of social organization.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Among the Hidden is the juxtaposition between poor farmers who are terrified by the government and rich government officials who break the very laws they have passed. Luke, an illegal third child from a poor farming family, sees the world as dangerous and accepts his life as it is. However, Luke’s neighbor, Jen Talbot, the step-daughter of a wealthy government official, sees the world as something for which to strive and feels she deserves to live her life without hiding.

Ultimately, Jen’s rebellious nature and carefree way of living (she isn’t even careful to stay away from open windows!) are what bring on her demise. Luke’s caution and fear of the government keep him alive and eventually give him a privileged life (for a while, anyway).

This beginning book is more of a philosophical introduction than most series, but there is some pretty good action toward the end. What I though to be the climax of the plot—Jen’s death at the rally—doesn’t even actually happen in the plot, but is talked about in passing a few pages later. Jen’s death is so important to the plot because it is what gives Luke the courage to come out of hiding. I am a little disappointed that Haddix chose to leave that scene out, but also understand that in leaving out the scene the audience remains in the dark just as Luke does. When what happened to Jen is described to Luke the audience finds out in the exact same way as he does—very clever!

The world that Haddix creates in this series is very vivid, yet is never named as a particular time or place. I like that the time is not named, but a remains a vague future that could be a few, or a few hundred, or a few thousand years. However, there are limited places that the book can actually take place.

There are telltale signs of "where" that show up in the book. In chapter 17, on page 79 (paperback edition), Jen offers Luke potato chips and soda (in the novel "junk food" has been banned). Linguistically, potato chips only happen in North America, and soda happens only in certain parts of North America. I give to the fact that perhaps the events of Among the Hidden happen so far in the future that language has been homogenized, but that is unlikely. If anything, the readers who eat potato chips and drink soda will feel as though the story takes place where they live; those who eat crisps and drink pop or fizzy drinks will feel as though the story takes place somewhere else.

In all, Haddix uses her first book of the series to introduce readers to a new world and to give insight to Luke. The characters introduced in this first book are complex; full of life, thought, feelings, and needs. Even some of the minor characters like Luke’s mom and dad are well-written and give a sense of what Luke’s life in hiding might be like. Since Luke or Luke’s actions will carry or intercept with forthcoming novels, it was imperative that Haddix spend the most time on him. The mundane and slow plot for the action of the book don’t seem so important when one looks at the energy put into creating Luke, his world, and the thought-provoking text of Among the Hidden. It is the beginning to a series that is sure not to disappoint.

Rating: 4 and a half pages

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