Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sneak Peeks with K.E. Weeks: Among the Hidden and the Shadow Children Series

This feature is presented by guest blogger, K.E.Weeks.
Can you imagine what life would be like if you had to hide your whole life in one room? What if you could never go outside, never see the sun? What if your family couldn’t even mention your existence outside of your home? Luke Garner lives such a life. He is an illegal “third child.” Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000; $6.99) explores the idea of life after droughts and famines when, to ensure there is enough food for all, the Government outlaws anyone from having a third child.

The novel’s premise is not so far-fetched, as adults will recognize China’s “one child” policy in the pages. This provides plenty of discussion fodder for parents and students. Who has the “right” to live? Does the Government have the “right” to dictate such intimate choices to families? How would you ration food if it were scarce?

Among the Hidden is a compelling, page-turning science fiction novel about twelve-year-old Luke’s experiences on his family farm when the Government forces the family to sell their woods and the Government builds fancy houses for the rich, called Barons. But everything changes for Luke when he spies another illegal third child in the new Baron house next door.

Among the Hidden is well-suited to 4th – 7th graders, though older reluctant readers would like it, too. The language and story are easy-to-follow. I would give the book four stars (out of five). The book reminds me of The Giver by Lois Lowry and the series that followed. Among the Hidden is not quite as good as Lowry’s book, but if your child liked The Giver, he will like this as well.
The series continues in the following titles. Like most sequels, though, the serial books are not as good as the first title. However, for Shadow Children series fans, they do hold readers’ interest. Overall, they are unpredictable and action-packed.

Among the Imposters – The series continues with Luke’s story as he goes to Hendrick’s boarding school, which has strange happenings and no windows. In the woods, Luke discovers other illegal third children. Four stars.

Among the Betrayed – The point-of-view in the series shifts now to Nina, an illegal third child introduced in the previous book. This takes the reader to Population Police Headquarters and introduces three new characters: Alia, Percy, and Matthias, who are in jail on suspicion of being illegal third children. This is the weakest book of the series, as the danger is only perceived as being real by the protagonist, not by the reader, who knows the villain in this book is really a good guy. Two stars.

Among the Barons – The series shifts back to Luke, who has taken on the identity of Lee Grant, a Baron child who was killed in a suspicious skiing accident. Luke lives among the Grants and their servants, trying to determine who is friend and who is foe. While this book will be well-received by those who like the Shadow Children series, it isn’t the best one in the bunch. Three stars.

Among the Brave – The point-of-view in the series shifts again to Trey, Luke’s close friend from Hendricks, who is thrust into the role of an unlikely hero. It also brings Luke’s brother Mark in as a more major character. It is set in the new Population Police headquarters and surrounding work camps. Even though the adults come off as inept and cowardly, this is one of the best books because Trey is likeable and grows as a person throughout the book. Four stars.

Among the Enemy – Matthias, one of the characters from the third book, takes over the narrative here. After the coup in the last book, Matthias ends up at the Population Police’s new headquarters in the Grants’ old house. He saves a Population Police officer’s life, and ends up as a favored “son” of the commander. Although the ending is a bit far-fetched, as is the fact that every crucial character lives within walking distance, it’s intriguing overall. It is a grittier book, with more death and danger, as Matthias’ life has been a hard one. It is a book about questioning one’s values and loyalties, with a lot of references to God. It’s another strong addition to the series. Four stars.

Among the Free – The series concludes by returning to Luke’s point-of-view. However, Luke appears to have changed a lot in the interim. He is less confident, more defeated, and running scared. The book confronts a lot of interesting concepts about freedom and choices. What does it mean to be free? How can freedom with its wealth of choices be scary? It also confronts the possibility of trading one totalitarian regime for another. The concluding book wraps up loose ends well, though, in the case of Nina, Matthias, Trey, and the rebel adults, a little too neatly. It foreshadows the characters’ futures and is a satisfactory ending. Four stars.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this review is to guide parents into selecting appropriate, significant, high-quality literature for their teens and tweens. I have no connection with the author or publisher of this book. I am a home educator of two children, 11 and 14, with a keen interest in historical fiction for young adults.

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