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Among the Hidden
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon and Schuster, 153 pages


Art: Cliff Nielsen
Among the Hidden
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of Running Out of Time (1995).

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Donner

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As I rapidly turned the final page of Among the Hidden, wondering what was going to happen to Luke and if he would ever find his way free of being an "illegal" child, I thought back on what I had just read. And I felt myself relax from the frantic pace -- I had read the entire 152 pages in two forty-minute train rides, plus some time waiting on the platform.

I hadn't hoped for much in the beginning. Haddix's story starts out a bit slow, with a few too many telegraphed emotional punches for my tastes. The characters were clear, but a bit heavy and slow moving, weighed down with heavy pity that lasts for several chapters.

However, once Luke, the illegal third son who must hide to avoid being caught by the Population Police, discovers a counterpart named Jen who lives in a neighbouring house, the story picks up quickly. What starts out slow and a bit dull suddenly jumps into life with a pop of the clutch and the catch of the gears.

The interaction between these two illegal children is vivacious and full of tension. She is rich; he is poor. She is a rebel; he is a recluse. Her father works for the government and her mother shops continuously, while his father farms in futility and his mother works long hours at the factory. She is a young girl, and he is a young boy. Among the Hidden takes off quickly and convincingly into the discoveries and courage of these two children as they try to understand and overcome their situation, each in his/her own way.

My favorite children's books now -- and I believe these were also my favorite when I myself was a child -- are those that are able to interest children without giving up on adults. Granted, not many adults are likely to go out and buy a children's book, but this isn't really my thinking. I remember distinctly when I was young that I disliked books that talked down to me in any way -- either by using overly simple language, having a see-through plot, or employing too many goody-goody characters. For me, books that reach too far down to children fall over themselves and end up looking ridiculous. Even when I was young, books that did this I usually returned to the library, mostly unread.

After a bit of a foundering start, Haddix does not stumble once. Her main characters are instantly engaging and face a serious crisis with a limited amount of experience and skill. Luke and Jen are aliens in their own homes, their own cultures, and this brings them close together quickly. It also points out the differences between them more sharply, and the author handles all of this with quick skill and simplicity.

Luke has been almost completely isolated from the world around him -- both by his status as an illegal child and by his rural, only somewhat literate lifestyle. As Jen gradually introduces him to the outside world and its possibilities, he is initially overcome with disbelief and misunderstanding. Gradually, with the young girl's guidance and his own common sense, Luke begins to piece together his own ideas about what is happening and what his role should be.

This is the kind of book that my father used to read aloud to us nightly. I still remember the occasional moments when his own voice would grow tight and a bit hoarse as the excitement or tension or sorrow of the story showed itself in a constricted throat and dry mouth. Haddix creates such excitement, such tension, and such sorrow, and she does so in a way that both parents and children can enjoy.

This is a story, and that means it's make-believe, but it is put together so well that you shouldn't have to pretend too hard at all. And even more, you won't have to realize you're pretending. You'll be too busy reading.

Copyright © 1998 by Chris Donner

Chris Donner is a freelance writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan and working in Connecticut. He will read almost anything once, as it makes the train ride go faster. He is currently writing a screenplay, a novel, several short stories, a collection of poems, and a letter to his mother. The letter will probably be done first.


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