The fifth book in the Shadow Children
series, American author Margaret Peterson Haddix’s speculative fiction novel for young adults, Among the Brave
(2004), takes place in a future dystopia where overpopulation has resulted in the installment of a fascist American government that has criminalized the act of having more than two children. It follows the story of the recurring character Trey, a friend of Luke Garner, who features in previous installments as a double agent working for a rebel faction against the Population Police. A commercial success, the Shadow Children
series has received positive reviews for its accessible, contemporary stories in which a collapsed state meets the conditions that can lead to the normalization of fascism and atrocity.
The novel begins immediately after the events of the previous book, Among the Barons
, which profiled the protected lives of the elite who directly benefit from the fascist regime. The story is told from the perspective of Trey, a former student at Hendricks’ School for Boys. Luke Garner, a boy impersonating Lee Grant, drops Smits (the younger brother of the real Lee) with the Grant family. Trey sets off to Mr. Talbot’s home, hoping to explain the political developments of the past months and his experiences at Hendricks’ and to get information from Mr. Talbot. When he reaches Mr. Talbot’s house, his friends, John, Joel, and Nina, drive off, leaving him stranded. Soon after, the Population Police raid the house, and Trey scrambles to save himself. He uses his knowledge of Population Police tactics, gleaned from years of hiding from them, to find a spot to hide on the porch. An officer enters the porch, eventually announcing something in Latin; having also learned Latin, Trey knows that he has told the other officers that the porch is clear.
When the Population Police leave, Trey enters Mr. Talbot’s house and runs into Mrs. Talbot, an intimidating woman whom he initially interprets as an enemy. However, she turns out to be a rebel sympathizer. They tap into a news channel available only to the wealthy members of the government to find that the government has suffered a coup in which the Population Police have seized control. This event marks the beginning of an even more murderous police state. Mrs. Talbot despairs and flees the house, feeling that she will soon be discovered for being a rebel sympathizer.
Trey packs up to leave, browsing the house for any useful documents. He takes a small pile of paperwork with him and leaves in search of John, Joel, Nina, Luke, and Lee. He reaches the farm where Luke’s family lives and finds his older brother Mark. They set off together to search for Lee, Luke, and the others. Venturing to the Grants’ house, they discover that it has tragically been converted into a base for the Population Police. They hold Mark hostage. Hoping to save him from the inside, Trey poses as a Population Police recruit and makes it into the base. There, he discovers that his missing friends, as well as Mr. Talbot, are slated for execution. Using his status as a recruit and the help of a fellow rebel Nedley, he manipulates the Population Police to free them. He then bribes one of the guards to make their way safely out of the prison.
Near the novel’s end, the group travels to the cottage of Mr. Hendricks, the patron of Trey’s former school, which is near the school itself. There, they find that the school has been invaded by Population Police, who abducted every physically able adult and child to join their militia. By this point, the whole group is injured and famished. Mrs. Talbot gives them food and medical aid, revealing that she used to be a doctor. Trey pulls out the documents he took from the Talbots’ house after the raid and examines them. They contain the names of nearly a thousand shadow children living under fabricated identities. Before burning them to keep their identities hidden, Trey decides to keep them in the hope that the information can be leveraged to dismantle the police state. Lee, Nedley, Nina, and their chauffeur agree to help him.
Like the preceding Shadow Children
novels, Among the Brave
is fraught with suspense as its young protagonists seek to escape state-sponsored atrocity. Unlike its prequels, the events of this installment signal the development of a sorely needed rebel solidarity that unifies against the fascist Population Police that seeks to abolish basic human rights.