Haddix, M.P. (1998). Among the Hidden. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Living under a strict government that only allows families to have two children, twelve-year-old Luke Garner must remain hidden from the eyes of outsiders since he is his parents' third son. While Luke would love to venture beyond his family's property, be seen in public and attend school, he has to settle for playing in the woods behind his family's house. That is until the government cuts down the woods to build mansions around the Garner farmhouse. Luke is no longer allowed to leave the house or even allowed on the main floor of the house for fear that his presence could be discovered.
Luke feels very alone, until he notices a child's face peek out of the window of one of his new neighbors' houses, when the two government sanctioned boys had already gone off to school for the day. Risking everything, Luke decides to investigate in the hopes of discovering that he is not the only shadow child.
While in theory, it'd be possible for this book to be slow and drawn-out, since the main character spends a good portion of the text in one room alone, Among the Hidden manages to be fast-paced with short chapters and growing tensions.
As I read, I did start to get a little irritated and the gender roles that were reinforced by the text. For example, one day Luke does venture forth from his attic room and attempts to help the family by baking bread. He then jokes with his teasing brother about poisoning the crumbly result. After his father tastes Luke's first baking attempt, he remarks "I'm not sure I'd want any son of mine getting too good at baking, anyhow. That's what a man gets married for." Yes, Luke. With a family like that, I'd make jokes about poisoning the food too. Luckily, characters introduced later in the text do challenge gender stereotypes, improving my poisoning mood.
While it's clear from the beginning that Among the Hidden is set in a world different from our own, the similarities and differences become more apparent as the story goes on (and students could track these as an assignment). With a distopian feel, it would be a good recommendation for students who enjoy Lois Lowry's The Giver or for students who aren't yet ready to take on Orwell's 1984 or Collins's The Hunger Games. Like The Giver, this book triggered a series: The Shadow Children. I may just have to check out the rest of them. Among the Impostors is the second book.
But now that I'm officially loving this series, I'm also kicking myself a little too. I met Margaret Peterson Haddix at the Ohioana Book Festival a few months ago. Not having read any of her books yet, I awkwardly approached her table, picked up one of her books available in paperback, had her sign it while avoiding eye contact and slinked off without actually speaking to her in a shy awkward way. I suppose next year I'll be able to gush at her and cling to her arm demanding to steal some of her story ideas. I'm sure that'll be less awkward.
I have a questions for all-ya-alls. Why didn't anyone tell me about this series sooner? We're you trying to keep it from me, hmmm? That's not nice.
However, word on the street is that as the series goes on, it goes downhill. So, I guess you were all trying to protect me, huh?
Activities to Do with the Book:
This book could be used in social studies classes to discuss equality, corruption, propaganda, power, population control, food production, protests, paranoia and the role of government in citizens' daily lives. Issues of class, taxation, truth and the way gender is constructed could also be addressed.
In chapter nineteen, there's a teaching moment that could be used to discuss research sources and trustworthiness for news and information (in my experience, such a talk always turns into discussing the dangers of citing wikipedia). But instead of just discussing books and online sources, a teacher could encourage students to take into account their own experiences with the subjects they have to research.
This is a good book to use to have children write reflective journals with as they read. Do they agree with the decisions Luke makes throughout the story. What would they do? etc.
"He saw the first tree shudder and fall, far off in the distance. Then he heard his mother call out the kitchen window: "Luke! Inside. Now."
He had never disobeyed the order to hide. Even as a toddler, barely able to walk in the backyard's tall grass, he had somehow understood the fear in his mother's voice. But on this day, the day they began taking the woods away, he hesitated."
"For a while, Luke watched Dad, Mother, Matthew, and Mark eating in silence, a complete family of four. Once, he cleared his throat, ready to protest again. You can't do this--it's not fair--Then he choked back the words, unspoken. They were trying to protect him. What could he do?"
"The Willikers were their nearest neighbors, with a house three miles down the road. Luke always pictured them with monster scales and fierce claws because of the number of times he'd been cautioned, "You don't want the Willikers to see you."
"He liked to forget he was Luke Garner, third child hidden in the attic."
"And then, out of the corner of his eye, Luke caught a glimpse of something behind one window of the Sports Family's house.
A face. A child's face. In a house where two boys already lived."