Among the Impostors. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
30-Second Plot Summary: Luke has left his family's farm for the first time in his life to attend school under the identity of another boy. As Luke deals with the shock of being around many new people, bullying and not getting lost as he travels the school's halls, he begins to realize that something may be off about the Hendricks school.
I like to think of Haddix as being the JJ Abrams of children's literature. For the longest time, both of these creative types are excellent at writing surprising, twisty narratives. But the more time you spend reading/watching their work, the more you learn to expect the completely unexpected and can figure out where they're going. Plus, in both cases, when the two work on series, they eventually get distracted and mentally move on to other things leaving you mid-series with a project is slowly going downhill.
When I read the first book in the Shadow Children series, Among the Hidden, I was impressed that Haddix managed to keep me interested in a book that featured a protagonist who spent much of the book in one room. With the second book, reading about Luke being stuck in one building got a little old much more quickly. Luke's big adventure is to escape to the woods outside the school and plant a garden. And I was left going, "A garden? Really? Ugh. Do we REALLY have to watch the plants grow. Really?! I like potatoes. I'm in no way opposed to planting them. But do I have to read about it here? Really?!" So imagine my joy when his garden was trampled and Luke had a new mission: Discover who else is leaving the school and meeting in the woods and why.
I also started to wonder how long it would take for Luke to finally age. I'm only on book two and it already feels like enough time has passed in these two books that he should have had a birthday by now. Is it part of the shadow children's distopian world that they're to be powerless hidden children forever? Never to age or grow? Yes, I'm starting to think so.
I also struggled with the way the Hendricks Academy was run. This could be a teacher thing, but Luke is introduced to the school. And isn't given a class schedule. He wonders from random class to random class. Later the reader learns that a lot of the students at the school have special needs. This made the teachers' disinterest in their classes that much less believable. Now, several characters explain the reasons why the school is the way it is. I still struggled.
Of course, the last forty books or so of the book were still pretty tense (and involved a touch of violence) that kept me up a little late to finish the book and ready to read book three, Among the Betrayed. It is important to note, this really is a series that needs to be read in it's proper order. No picking which book has the coolest title or cover (if I still made book decisions that way, there's no way Among the Impostors would have been the second book I read).
Since Luke/Lee has little understanding of how school works, what with never leaving his parents' house EVER before, the boy struggles to fit in and is bullied upon his arrival. This could be a nice reminder for middle grade readers about how people have different experiences from one another and how we (teachers included!) need to make certain to welcome new students and make sure they are comfortable and understand the school rules.
One of the tensions throughout Among the Impostors is the way that children from the country are perceived. A teacher could lead discussion on stereotypes, in this case the way farmers are perceived both in the book and in American culture. (This can turn into a history lesson since Jefferson had a lot to say about citizens who farm compared to those who don't.) Also since, Luke starts growing a garden, a class can do the same.
As with the rest of the series, the distopian world Haddix has created lends itself to discussion social revolutions, the passage of laws, the population laws of China or historical events like the Holocaust and other situations where groups of people were persecuted.
QUOTES OF NOTE:
"Sometimes he whispered his real name in the dark, in the middle of the night.
"Luke. My name is Luke" (p. 1).
"It was awful. All those eyes, all looking at him. It was straight out of Luke's worst nightmares. Panic rooted him to the spot, but every muscle in his body was screaming for him to run, to hide anywhere he could. For twelve years--his entire life--he'd had to hide. To be seen was death. "Don't!" he wanted to scream. "Don't look at me! Don't report me! Please!" (p. 15).
"But Luke wished for so much, he couldn't go on.
He was so busy longing for big, impossible changes, he never gave a thought to wanting anything smaller or more practical. Like an open door.
But that was what he got" (p. 37).
"He'd thought that coming out of hiding would expose him to the world, teach him everything. But being at Hendricks seemed like just another way to hide" (p. 79).
TASTY RATING: !!!