Setting

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 828

Although Among the Hidden does not have a specific setting, the story takes place in an America not too different and not too distant from our own. Throughout the course of the novel, the reader learns a lot about the society in which Luke and his family live. Sometime about ten years before the beginning of the novel, the country experienced a food shortage, and in order to control the population growth and preserve the food supply, the government passed laws forbidding parents from having more than two children. Luke's mother accidentally became pregnant after she had already had two children, and she decided to keep and hide her "third." This totalitarian government places other restrictions on its citizens, such as controlling what type of crops and livestock farmers may raise, forbidding junk food, confiscating farmland and woods for building houses, controlling the media, and forcing people to become vegetarians. These rules are enforced by the Population Police who hunt down and punish those who disobey. At the same time that these laws were passed, the government made a conscious decision to create an upper class, the Barons, who run and control the government and who enjoy many special privileges, such as permission to keep pets, access to junk food and soda, and new luxury houses. By contrast to the Barons, Luke's family scratches out a living on a marginal farm. Traditionally, they have planted crops and raised hogs. However, in light of new laws, they must sell all their livestock that they depend on for income because the smell of their farm offends the Baron families living in the new houses built on the formerly forested land adjacent to theirs. This unprofitable sale throws the family further into poverty and pushes Luke's mother to take a job in a factory processing chickens that only the Barons will be allowed to eat. At the same time, the government has confiscated the woods adjoining their farm on which to build luxury homes for Baron families. Thus, a productive farm is turned into a wasteland at a time when food is supposedly in short supply.

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Although it is unclear what the consequences of disobedience would be, Luke's family and, presumably, other citizens are terrified of the government and its Population Police. The Garners disobeyed the government once by bearing and hiding Luke, but now they dedicate their whole existence to making sure that they never break the rules again. They are willing to impose ever increasing restrictions on their child— he can no longer eat at the table with the family, no television, no radio, no walking around on the first floor of the house, no looking out the window—all in an effort to avoid their being caught. While the Baron families have more wealth, more technology, and more power, they are also ultimately controlled by the Population Police and by the rules of the totalitarian government. They may indulge in potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and soda, but in the end, even they cannot get away with bearing and hiding a third child.

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Luke retreats to the attic as a way of separating from his family during his adolescence and finds that he can continue his development by carefully peering out the air vents in the roof and watching first the housing construction and then the residents of the new houses. He discovers, like many adolescents, that the world is full of many people who bear no resemblance to his family; in fact, he discovers that there is somebody else just like him living right next door. It is at this point in the story that Luke, yearning to go meet this person, begins to question his own courage and ability to act when he ponders whether he is a coward or whether he is cautious. Eventually, he dares to sprint to the house, break in the screen door, and learns that there is a name for what he and his new friend Jen are—shadow children.

One of the most powerful qualities of this novel is that its setting, the world that Luke and Jen live in, is identical to the contemporary United States except for the totalitarian policies of its government. The Garners' farm, the food they eat, and the clothes they wear, as well as the luxury homes, sports equipment, cars, chat rooms, and even the Barons' chocolate chip cookies create a realistic setting that seems a great deal like the world of contemporary young adults. Even most of its manipulative and restrictive practices (population control, food rationing, propaganda, censorship, privacy breaches) can be found in the world today. This setting makes it easy for readers to imagine themselves in the position of Luke or Jen or their families and to ponder the impact that such a world might have on them. By the time Jen and the shadow children are murdered at their rally, the scenario seems all too real and almost too possible.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

In Among the Hidden, Haddix weaves elements of a dystopian novel into a contemporary realistic story to explore important themes and issues. Just as a Utopia is an imaginary place that represents a society where everything is as ideal as possible, a dystopia is a world in which everything is as bad as possible. Examples of classic dystopian novels are Brave New World and 1984. These kinds of books for young readers are rarely completely evil or hopeless, but rather they contain dystopian elements, such as in this case totalitarian governments, loss of free will, manipulation of the truth, and misuse of technology. By combining these elements with a coming of age story that will appeal to younger adolescents, Haddix draws readers into the story and inspires them to ponder the larger issues facing society.

This story is told from Luke's point of view, using a third person narrator who sees the world through Luke's eyes. Throughout the course of the novel, Luke learns to see his world more broadly and clearly, and so does the reader who knows only what Luke knows and grows in understanding along with Luke. Haddix uses both conversations between Luke and the other characters and Luke's interior monologues to tell the story. These conversations allow both Luke and the reader to check their views of reality against their experiences with other characters in the novel:

In Among the Hidden, Haddix employs a journalistic writing style. This style reflects her training and background as a journalist, and it is also highly effective in the telling of this story. Luke's world is plain and stark with few colors, smells, or sounds, and this setting is reflected in Haddix's straightforward language. There are few descriptions of Luke's surroundings except when he briefly ventures outside. Also, this is the story of an eleven-year-old boy who has had very limited experiences; he has never even seen the other side of the barn and the field beyond. Haddix's use of simple language also reflects those limitations and casts over the whole work a sense of the factual and real.

Social Sensitivity

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339

Among the Hidden is a young adult novel that can be used to discuss a number of provocative and relevant social issues. The population control laws in the story were supposedly necessary to reduce a population that was growing more rapidly than the country's food supply. Luke's story can lead to an interesting discussion of population growth, allocation of the world's supply of oil and other resources, and the production and distribution of agricultural products. The right to privacy is not a feature of Luke's world. This government employs both censorship and propaganda to control the lives of its citizens, and the use of media and technology both to monitor and to manipulate behavior raises questions about these features of life in contemporary America. Luke and Jen's behaviors and aspirations challenge gender roles and stereotypes throughout the novel. Jen adopts a tough and prickly exterior and prides herself on risk taking while Luke is more cautious and sensitive. Examining the behavior of these two characters can provide interesting insights into the choices and expectations faced by adolescent boys and girls.

Because Among the Hidden ventures into many thought-provoking areas, Haddix also brings up several issues that some may view as controversial in a novel written for younger adolescents. As Luke learns to question the actions and the authority of the government, he and Jen express many views that are anti-government; for example, that the government is incompetent and stupid. While this may be true in their world, some may interpret this as encouragement to view government in such an unflattering light. This government also employs a number of controversial technologies, such as abortion and gender selection, to accomplish its goals, which may be viewed as inappropriate for adolescents. Finally, the story has a very upsetting and violent conclusion when Jen and the other shadow children who attend the rally are shot to death while protesting at the White House. While this event is consistent with the story, some may object to this type of violence in an adolescent novel.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 224

"Haddix, Margaret Peterson." In Something about the Author, vol. 94. Detroit: Gale, 1998. This is a brief biography of Haddix as well as a critical overview of her novels.

Hoy, Sherry. Review of Among the Hidden. Book Report (May/June 1999): 63. This reviewer recommends the novel as definite food for thought and discussion stating that it contains some of the same tones as The Giver.

"Margaret Peterson Haddix." In Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2001. This is a brief biographical article including a listing of the numerous awards and honors Haddix's works have won along with a detailed discussion of the critical reception of her works.

Review of Among the Hidden. Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 1998). According to this reviewer, Haddix offers much for discussion by presenting a world that is not too different from the United States in the early 2000s and that provides readers with a new appreciation for their own world.

Review of Among the Hidden. Publishers Weekly (August 31, 1998): 76-77. According to this reviewer, although the plot is sometimes implausible and the characterizations brittle, the story is unsettling and thought provoking enough to keep readers hooked.

Rogers, Susan L. Review of Among the Hidden. School Library Journal (September 1998): 203. According to this reviewer, this is an exciting and compelling story about the loss of free will and the choice to defy authority in order to make a difference.

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