98 pages • 3 hours readMargaret Peterson Haddix
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Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden is a young adult dystopian novel that follows the story of Luke Garner, a child whose existence is illegal due to a population law that prohibits people from having more than two children. He meets a fellow third child for the first time and learns about the history and structure of his country’s dystopian society. Among the Hidden was first published in 1998 and is Haddix’s fourth full-length novel. Haddix has gone on to write six more installments in the Shadow Children series. Among the Hidden explores themes of legality and morality, propaganda, and privilege as Luke comes to learn about the world he lives in. This study guide follows the 2000 Simon & Schuster first paperback edition of the novel.
Content Warning: Among the Hidden contains depictions of violence and child death.
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Luke Garner is a 12-year-old boy and the illegal third child of his farmer parents. Luke has grown up on his family property in the middle of the woods, since he must stay hidden or the Population Police will come for him and his family because having more than two children is prohibited by law. Due to the remoteness of his home, he has the freedom to go outside. Luke’s life changes when the government begins to level the forest for a housing development for Barons, who are the privileged elite of society.
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Now that Luke is confined to his house, he loses more of his freedoms. Eventually, his parents forbid him from eating at the kitchen table because they don’t want it to seem suspicious that the shades are always down. Luke begins eating at the bottom step of the stairs that lead to the attic, which is also Luke’s hidden bedroom.
Soon after, the government sends the family to get rid of their hogs because they will smell too bad for the new families moving in nearby. Without the hogs, the family faces new financial strain, and Mother takes a factory job, leaving Luke alone in the attic for most of the day. Luke’s only view of the outside world is through the vents at the top of his attic walls; he keeps this view a secret. Over time, he watches as houses are built and wealthy Barons move in.
One day, Luke looks through the vents to double-check that everyone has left the houses around his, and he catches sight of a face in the window next door. Luke is sure he saw all four members of the family leave earlier that day, and he begins to wonder if there is another third child next door. Luke decides to visit the house and breaks in.
Inside, Luke follows sounds to the computer room and finds a girl around his age chatting on the internet, Jen. Jen introduces him to the term “shadow children” and explains that there is nothing wrong with being a third child. Jen calls her dad to tell him to turn off the security alarm, claiming to have set it off by accident. Luke is amazed at Jen’s lifestyle, as she uses the phone and computer and knows people outside her immediate family. Jen’s family has government connections and money to bribe people to look the other way. Jen tells Luke that she can help him. Before Luke leaves, they work out a system to signal to one another using their back porch lights so Luke knows when it’s safe to visit.
Jen doesn’t respond on the first safe day, as she went into town with her mother to go shopping. She explains that she has a forged shopping pass that indicates she’s her mother’s niece. Jen introduces him to her online chatroom inhabited by other shadow children. Jen is planning a rally for shadow children to protest the Population Law in front of the president’s house. Luke believes this is a terrible idea, and he’s terrified to attend, but Jen is confident in her plan. The rally won’t be for a few months, and she is working hard to get everything organized. Jen sends Luke home with books from the government as well as some articles.
The books, Luke finds, are government propaganda which detail the drought and famine that resulted in the implementation of the Population Law. Luke worries that his existence is taking food from other people. However, the articles from independent journalists detail the evils of the Population Law.
As the rally approaches, Jen works tirelessly to make sure her fellow shadow children are on board with the plan. She plans to take one of her parents’ cars, pick up Luke and several other shadow children, and drive to the president’s house. She and Luke argue because he’s too afraid to participate.
Later, Jen sneaks into Luke’s house and apologizes. Luke explains that his social status makes the world more dangerous for him. The day of the rally, Luke sneaks the radio on, but nothing is ever reported. For over a week, his signals to Jen’s house go unanswered. Worried, Luke goes over to Jen’s house and disables the alarm. He types into the chat room asking if anyone knows about Jen, but no one replies. Jen’s dad arrives home and points a gun at Luke, demanding to know who he is.
Luke tells Jen’s dad that he’s Jen’s friend, a fellow third child, and asks what happened to Jen. Jen’s dad breaks down crying, explaining that Jen and the 40 other children who showed up for the rally were shot and killed on sight. Jen’s dad reveals that he works for the Population Police, causing Luke to panic and grab the gun. Jen’s dad talks Luke down, explaining that he doesn’t agree with what they do and he’s working on sabotage efforts from the inside.
Jen’s dad asks what Luke knows about the government. Luke tells him about the books and articles Jen showed him. Jen’s dad explains that both are propaganda, and the truth is in the middle. He blames himself for giving Jen the articles. He just wanted to give her hope for the future. Jen’s dad explains that the Population Law came after the government was overthrown and was then taken over by a general. Jen’s dad does not believe the Population Law is moral, and he laments that his status as a Baron gives him more than others. Luke feels relieved to learn that it’s morally okay for him to exist. Jen’s dad also informs Luke that the chat room is now being monitored, and Luke could be in danger for sending the messages asking about Jen.
The Population Police bang on the door. Jen’s dad hides Luke in a closet. He pretends to be incredulous that they’re searching his house. When they leave, Jen’s dad is wearing a wire to monitor his interactions. He communicates with Luke through writing, offering to get him a fake ID. Luke thinks perhaps he can succeed where Jen failed in working to help shadow children.
Luke tells his family everything, and several days later Jen’s dad picks up Luke, now living under the name Lee Grant, to take him to a boy’s boarding school. The real Lee Grant was a Baron, but he died in a skiing accident the day before. His parents donated his identity to help shadow children. As he rides away from home, Luke promises Jen he’ll tell everyone about her once the shadow children have been liberated.
By Margaret Peterson Haddix