Among the Hidden Summary

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Among the Hidden

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Among the Hidden Summary

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Among the Hidden is a 1998 young adult novel by American author Margaret Peterson Haddix. The first installment in the seven-book Shadow Children series, it takes place in a dystopian future where an oppressive government has placed strict population controls on the population due to food shortages. Families are only allowed to have two children, and violators are subject to death—with the illegal third children being condemned simply for being born. The story centers on Luke Garner, an illegal third child who has spent his entire life in hiding, having met no one outside of his family. When he meets a fellow third child, he becomes involved in the resistance demanding rights for third children. Among the Hidden explores themes related to civil rights, social change, and resistance to oppressive governments, as well as the concept of how easily a society can dismiss a group’s rights and basic humanity. Among the Hidden was critically acclaimed, being shortlisted by the American Library Association as one of the ten best Young Adult books in 1999, as well as winning awards around the country. It remains in print and popular since the series concluded in 2006.

Among the Hidden begins in a world where overpopulation is out of control, resulting in massive food shortages. The government has been replaced by a totalitarian regime that is attempting to quell the crisis by instituting extreme population control. This includes a hard ban on anyone having more than two children. Anyone who breaks this law faces death, and illegal third children are considered “unpersons” in the eye of the law, forcing them to live in hiding to preserve their lives and their family’s safety. One such third child is Luke Garner, a twelve-year-old who lives on a farm with his parents and brothers, Matthew and Mark. As a third child, Luke knows that his safety relies on spending his days hidden from public view. The rural location shields him at first, but when the government starts building houses close to Luke’s family’s farm, Luke is confined to the house in total isolation from the rest of the world. He is terrified of the population police and obeys his parents’ rules to keep him safe, but as the woods fill up with wealthy homeowners, his freedom is restricted more and more. Soon he’s not even allowed to eat at the same table as his family and is confined mostly to the attic, for fear he will be seen through a window.

As Luke’s parents take more and more protective measures to conceal his existence, his attic is sealed up except for a vent he can look out of. When he’s looking out at what little he can see of the outside world one day, he sees a girl’s face in the window of a house that he knows already has two children. He sneaks out of his house one day and runs over to the house, where he meets Jen Talbot. A year older than him, Jen is the secret third daughter of one of the Barons living in the houses in the woods. The first third child Luke has ever met beside himself, he and Jen quickly bond over their mutual isolation, although Jen’s powerful father is able to keep the population police away from his house and give Jen a bit more freedom. Jen is very educated, and she is informed on and opposed to the population laws. She is secretly organizing third children into a resistance movement, and planning for a rally by a large number of third children outside the seat of the government. She asks Luke to join her, but he is scared and refuses, going back to his safe hiding place at home and waiting to hear from her about the rally. But he does not hear from her. He waits, and a month passes with no word from Jen.

Worried, Luke sneaks over to Jen’s house, where he is caught by George Talbot, Jen’s father and a high-ranking member of the Population Police. Luke is sure he’s been caught, but George tells him not to worry—he secretly opposes the population law as well. He tells Luke that Jen is dead—she and all the other third children were brutally gunned down in front of the government office while protesting. As he tries to explain to Luke that he’s doing the best he can to honor his daughter’s memory and fight for what she believed in, the population police break in, having received a tip that Mr. Talbot was harboring a third child. Mr. Talbot is able to persuade them otherwise, while Luke hides in the closet. Later, he slips Luke a note saying the population police are spying on him, trying to catch him in his work against their goals so they can kill him. He asks Luke if he wants a way out of his present situation in the form of a fake ID. This will allow him to live like a normal person. Luke accepts, and Mr. Talbot gets him the ID of a boy named Lee, the son of a rich family who died in an accident. Accepting the new identity means Luke will have to leave his family. The book ends with Luke saying goodbye as he leaves for boarding school where he will take Lee’s place.

Margaret Peterson Haddix is an American author of young adult and children’s books. She has written more than thirty books in her twenty-year-plus career, and is best known for the Shadow Children series (consisting of Among the Hidden and its six sequels, Among the Impostors, Among the Betrayed, Among the Barons, Among the Brave, Among the Enemy, and Among the Free), as well as for the time-travel series, The Missing, and the feminist fairytale, Just Ella. A winner of the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award, her books remain popular in both bookstores and school libraries.