“Among the Hidden,” penned by Margaret Peterson Haddix, is a young adult dystopian novel set in a world where strict population control laws have made the existence of third children like Luke Garner illegal.
Published in 1998 as Haddix’s fourth full-length novel, it has since been followed by six more books in the Shadow Children series.
The story unfolds with 12-year-old Luke, a hidden child living on his family’s remote farm. His life is a secret, kept away from the prying eyes of the Population Police. Luke’s world is one of confinement and secrecy until the government starts clearing nearby forests for housing developments for the Barons, society’s privileged elite.
This forces Luke into even deeper hiding, confining him to his house, and specifically to his attic, which doubles as his bedroom.
Luke’s routine life takes a dramatic turn when he discovers another hidden child, Jen, living next door. Jen, unlike Luke, lives a comparatively liberated life, thanks to her family’s connections and wealth.
She introduces Luke to the world of “shadow children” and exposes him to broader perspectives, including the internet and the idea of protesting against the Population Law.
As the narrative progresses, Luke uncovers the harsh realities of his society.
He learns about the government propaganda justifying the Population Law due to past famines and droughts, but also encounters independent reports highlighting the law’s cruelty. Torn between fear and the desire for freedom, Luke grapples with the morality and legality of his existence.
The plot reaches a climax as Jen plans a bold rally for shadow children’s rights in front of the president’s house. Despite Luke’s fears, Jen’s determination is unwavering. Tragically, the rally ends in disaster, with Jen and other participants being shot dead by the authorities.
In the aftermath, Luke encounters Jen’s father, a member of the Population Police, who reveals the complex truths behind the government’s actions and expresses his internal conflict about his role in enforcing the law.
This encounter leads Luke to a pivotal decision, accepting a new identity as ‘Lee Grant’ to attend a boarding school and continue the fight for the rights of shadow children.
1. Luke Garner
At 12, Luke is a sensitive and observant boy, living a life of secrecy as an illegal third child. Confined to his family’s farm, he yearns for the normalcy his brothers enjoy. Luke’s journey from a compliant, hidden child to a cautiously rebellious individual is catalyzed by his friendship with Jen. His arc culminates in a courageous, albeit painful, step towards a new life with a fake identity, seeking to honor Jen’s memory by supporting other shadow children.
2. Jen Talbot
Vibrant and fearless, Jen, a fellow shadow child, is born into privilege but not complacency. Her rebellious spirit and belief in justice drive her to lead a dangerous rally against the Population Law. Tragically, her boldness leads to her untimely death, leaving a lasting impact on Luke. Jen’s role is pivotal in opening Luke’s eyes to the world’s harsh realities and inspiring him to seek change.
3. Jen’s Dad
A complex character, Jen’s stepfather works within the Population Police yet secretly opposes their agenda. His dual life underscores the narrative’s theme of hidden resistance. Stricken with grief over Jen’s death, he nevertheless aids Luke in escaping his confined life, demonstrating his quiet but firm stand against the oppressive system.
4. Luke’s Mother
A portrait of maternal love and fear, Luke’s mother grapples with the guilt of keeping him hidden and the desire to protect him at all costs. Her internal conflict is evident in her struggle to balance work with caring for Luke. Her ultimate decision to let Luke leave for a better life is a poignant moment of love and sacrifice.
5. Luke’s Father
A man of few words, Luke’s father’s relationship with him is distant yet pivotal. His pragmatic nature comes to the fore when he supports Luke’s decision to leave, recognizing the necessity of this painful choice for Luke’s future. His quiet acceptance of Luke’s departure hints at an understanding of the broader implications of their situation.
6. Matthew and Mark
Luke’s older brothers, they represent the ‘normal’ life that Luke is denied. Their interactions with Luke range from brotherly teasing to moments of genuine concern, reflecting the complex dynamics of a family living under constant fear. They symbolize the contrasting lives within the same household, underlining the impact of the Population Law on family bonds.
1. The Moral and Ethical Implications of Oppressive Laws
At the heart of the novel is the struggle against the Population Law, a draconian measure that limits families to two children. This law sets the stage for a profound exploration of the morality behind governmental control and individual rights.
Luke’s journey highlights the ethical dilemmas faced by those who are forced to exist in the shadows, deemed illegal by birth.
The story raises critical questions about the legitimacy of laws that dehumanize and marginalize individuals, challenging readers to consider the fine line between legal and moral righteousness.
2. The Power and Influence of Propaganda
Haddix skillfully unravels the theme of propaganda and its role in shaping societal beliefs and behaviors.
Through Luke’s exposure to government literature and independent articles, the novel showcases how information can be manipulated to support oppressive regimes.
The contrast between state-sponsored propaganda and independent journalism in the book serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of critical thinking and the pursuit of truth.
The theme underscores how propaganda can be used to justify injustices and sway public opinion, making it a potent tool for both oppression and resistance.
3. The Concept of Privilege and Social Stratification
The novel paints a vivid picture of a society deeply divided by class and privilege.
Luke’s interactions with Jen and the discovery of the world of Barons bring to light the stark inequalities that exist within their society.
The theme of privilege is explored through the disparities in freedom, access to resources, and the ability to influence change.
While Luke lives a life of confinement and fear, Jen, though also a third child, enjoys certain freedoms due to her family’s status and wealth.
This exploration of privilege challenges the reader to reflect on the arbitrary nature of societal hierarchies and the inherent unfairness in a system that values individuals based on their birth order or social status.
“Among the Hidden” is not just a tale of dystopian society; it’s a profound exploration of themes like legality vs. morality, the power of propaganda, and the disparities of privilege.
It’s a story that compels readers to think about the value of individual existence and the impact of oppressive laws on human lives.
Content warnings for violence and child death are pertinent, as the book does not shy away from depicting the harsh realities of its world.