Among the Hidden

Among the HiddenBy Margaret Peterson Haddix [LibrarythingAmazon]

Luke was never supposed to exist. The Population Law says that families can only have two kids—and the Population Police will murder any third children they find. But So Luke lives in hiding in his parents’ attic, never allowed outside, not even allowed to eat with the family in case someone glances in the kitchen window.

But then everything changes—from his hiding spot he sees another child like him, a girl who shouldn’t exist, another third. He risks everything to meet her…And it turns out that she has a daring plan which might not just liberate the two of them, but every hidden child in the country. If only they can find the courage to do it…

I was expecting a bit more science fiction when I picked this book up, and instead got a dystopia with a more classic feel. It reads very much as a cross between 1984 and The Giver, set in the Great Depression. Except, of course, that it isn’t the depression; it’s a generic future where population explosion combined with drought and famine to topple the government, bringing a totalitarian regime to power. The book also touches on class, quite a bit; Luke’s family are poor farmers, barely able to keep the roof over their heads, completely unable to turn a profit. But they live next to a settlement of Barons, a class so wealthy and powerful they have hidden luxuries like illegal junk food…and their third children can get fake identity cards, leave their houses, and pretend to be normal.

The book does a pretty good job of showing just how miserable Luke is. He’s lonely and isolated, and it gets worse as the book goes on; the writing is vivid and clear. The characters are pretty standard. What makes the book good, though, is Jen, the girl Luke finds hidden in a Baron household. Jen is both passionate and naïve. She desperately wants to be free of the tyrannical Population Laws, and defies both her parents and the government to try and do so. But her passion blinds her; she believes she truly can fix everything, that it’ll be easy to do. She believes anti-government propaganda uncritically, while Luke discovers for himself that the truth isn’t what the government claims, and it isn’t what Jen and her circle of pre-teen rebels believe; it’s somewhere between the two, all shades of gray. And then…spoiler. show

The dystopia itself is pretty great, but then, I love a good eerily wrong society. (Shocking for long-time readers of this blog, I’m sure.) The book definitely has that; it’s developed and fascinating. Unfortunately, part of what makes it so upsetting is that it’s got an…hm, not exactly anti-choice message, but it skirts the line pretty closely. There’s a very effective scene where Jen and Luke discuss the government’s propaganda, encouraging women to have fewer children—only one, or none at all. And Luke knows that all women are required to have a surgery after they’ve had two children, to make it impossible to have more; and that if an accident happens and she gets pregnant again, she’s supposed to “take care of it.” Luke doesn’t know what that means, only that his mother knew she could never have “taken care of” him because she loves him so much and wanted a large family so badly. The juxtaposition of the evil government forcing sterilization on women and the loving mother defying them is pretty striking. It isn’t a pro-choice, pro-life question, because pro-choice is very definitely not pro-forced-sterilization (since that, you know, takes away your choice), but it comes close enough to make me uncomfortable. It didn’t strike me as intentional, or that it was a message the author was hoping readers would take away, but it was subtext nonetheless.

Otherwise, the book is a dandy little dystopia. A little off the beaten path for this blog, but solidly-written and definitely something that could be read, enjoyed, and discussed in a young-ish classroom. I would read the sequels (the further adventures of Luke, presumably still seeking a way to free the shadow children) if they were available free, but am not interested enough to pay for them, and I was mildly disturbed. But then again, isn’t that why you read dystopias? Anyway, I’m split; I’m giving this three cupcakes because my enjoyment of it was stronger than my discomfort, but it’s slightly generous on my part.


    7 Responses to “Among the Hidden”

    1. Aubie says:

      I love this author. Margarat is cool.

    2. Hannah says:

      I liked these books. I’ve read them all and the only problem I had was how she ended the series.

    3. Rebecca says:

      Hmm, interesting…maybe I’ll skip to the end of the series and pick up the last book, just to see what happens.

    4. Hannah says:

      The ending was just too fast. I mean they went through all this stuff and then it just ended!!! I just sat there staring at the book when I finished it thinking What! that can’t be the end!! but sadly it was.=(

    5. Anastacia says:

      I’ve read every single one of these books and I loved them. All of them ended on a cliffhanger, making me desperate for the next. I also loved how not the whole series is form Luke’s point of view, how there are stories told in other settings too that still tie in to the whole plot.

    6. Nikki says:

      Hm. I’m prolife, and I think personally I would have taken a prolife message from this. I’m usually not into science fiction, but I think I’ll try this book now. I might appreciate it.

      I know how sensitive a topic abortion is, but I don’t think people should just shy away from it, and I think it’s important to get out the prolife message anywhere possible, so I have to say this. I can understand wanting to let people make their own choices. I cannot understand supporting the choice to murder people, and unborn babies ARE people. You should read up on the science of it. I don’t mean to make anyone hurt or mad. I’m just stating the truth.

    7. Rebecca says:

      Nikki — This is not the place to “get out the message” for your personal views. You’re more than welcome to respond to the reviews, including disagreeing with what Jess or I has written and explaining why, even if that “why” is potentially controversial (like explaining you’d be interested in a book because you are pro-life, as you mentioned in your first paragraph — that’s totally okay). But I want to be clear: you are not welcome to use this blog as a platform to lecture other people about your views (as you did in your entire second paragraph). Future comments that do so will be deleted or have the problematic parts edited out.

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