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Janet's Literature Reviews

Book Reviews - Margaret Peterson Haddix


Book Summaries



Among the Hidden


Haddix, Margaret Peterson. 1998. Among the hidden. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN: 0689824750.


            Among the Hidden is the first book in the popular Shadow Children series by author Margaret Peterson Haddix. In this novel about a totalitarian society, twelve-year-old Luke Garner, must live hidden from the world and especially the Population Police because he is unfortunately a “third child”. This dystopian society, that not only has a distinct class system that caters to the elite (the “Barons” or government officials) but there is also a Population Law that forbids families from having more than two children. Luke has lived an isolated life on his parent’s farm that is surrounded by a woods that acts as a buffer to the real world. Now the government has ordered the cutting of the woods to allow a subdivision for the “Barons” to be built and Luke and his family live in constant fear of his discovery. Luke soon learns that he is not the only third child when he sees a face in the window of a home where the other two children have already left for the day. Jen, one of the “shadow children” is completely different from Luke. She is determined to change the Population Law so she will not have to stay hidden while Luke is more willing to wait out the situation. Jen devises a plan for the shadow children to march on the capital to make their situation known, but her plan ends in a tragedy of murder and cover-up. Luke must now decide what to do, with the help of Jen’s dad, to escape the Population Police and avenge Jen’s death.      


Running Out of Time


Haddix, Margaret Peterson. 1995. Running out of time. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0689800843.


            Running Out of Time, the debut novel of author Margaret Peterson Haddix, is about thirteen-year-old Jessie Keyser who lives in the small village of Clifton with her family in the year 1840. This is what Jessie believes until many of the children and even her own sister Katie become sick with diphtheria. Jessie’s mother the village’s midwife must reveal to Jessie that the year is really 1996 and the Utopian society that they live in is really a historic village where they are always on display to the tourist that watch them through hidden cameras. The medications that always worked before are now being withheld and Jessie is the only one that can escape the village to get help from Mr. Neely who opposed the village from the beginning. Jessie escapes the village and the surrounding compound only to be captured by Miles Clifton’s “men” who want her dead because she knows too much. Jessie escapes again and is able to bring the plight of the village to the attention of the media through a news conference. The following investigation brings to light that the historic village is in reality a medical experiment by men that want “to create a strong gene pool that would endure even if the rest of humanity were wiped out --.” (p. 169). Jessie and the other village children must stay in the hospital for a number of days recovering from diphtheria that does take the lives of two of her friends. The children are placed in foster care and eventually return to their parents, but they must face a long recovery as they prepare to enter the unfamiliar world of the year 1996.   


Critical Analysis of  Among the Hidden and Running Out of Time


            Both novels, Among the Hidden and Running Out of Time are examples of Contemporary Realistic Fiction, but they both have a futuristic feel and a plot that is plausible even in our near future. It is interesting to note that both protagonist in these stories are kept in the dark about their lives and they do not have control over their individual circumstances because of their situations and until they learn the truth. According to Susan L. Rogers, in a School Library Journal review, “the loss of free will is the fundamental theme” of both of these YA novels. Both of the protagonist, Luke and Jessie, do not realize their true situation until the truth is forced upon them and then they must make life changing decisions.


            Both the novels have good story lines that would be interesting to students because they are unusual, and I found them to be credible and believable especially Among the Hidden. Even today we hear of countries that “encourage” families to only have two children and the families are punished if they disobey the law. This story is plausible and not far removed from real life. In Running Out of Time the idea of a historic village that unknowingly helped researchers develop a group of people that are resistant to diseases is a little less plausible, but possible. Even now we have diseases that are becoming more and more resistant to known medicines.


            The pace of these stories differs with Among the Hidden having a slow start. Haddix is developing the story and letting the reader feel the depressed situation of Luke’s family, but it seems to last too long. Chris Donner, in a review for SF Site writes, “Haddix’s story starts out a bit slow, with a few too many telegraphed emotional punches for my tastes. The characters were clear, but a bit heavy and slow moving, weighed down with heavy pity that lasts for several chapters.” The story picks up when Luke meets the other third child Jen and the climax comes at the end of the story at a frenzied pace. The novel, Running Out of Time, begins with a fast pace that is full of action and mystery and it continues through the book until the very end when the pace slows and becomes anticlimactic and almost too realistic. The ending of Among the Hidden fits the situation of the novel and the author continues the tension felt by the characters. I really wanted to know what would happen to Luke at the end of Among the Hidden, but I also had a feeling of hope that he would survive.


            Haddix uses contrast effectively in both novels, but in Among the Hidden, the author uses contrast to show the reader the true characteristics of  Luke and Jen. The characters are both “shadow children”, but their lives are completely different. Luke is from a farming family that must struggle to exist and Jen lives in the privileged world of the “Barons”. Their differences are shown through the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the houses they live in, and even the freedom they have. The first half of the book is just about Luke and his situation so the difference between the two is especially surprising and unexpected. In Running Out of Time, the author uses contrast to show how different Jessie’s world in the village is from the world outside of Clifton in the year 1996. This contrast helps show the reader how confused and lost Jessie must have felt as she was trying to find help for her family.


            Both books were chosen as ALA Best Books for Young Adults and I would highly recommend them to middle and high school students. I think they would also be a good choice for reluctant readers at the high school level.



Donner, Chris. 1998. Review of Among the hidden. Science Fiction Site. Available from . Accessed 8 June 05.

Rogers, Susan L. 1998. Review of Among the hidden. School Library Journal. Available from Titlewave . Accessed 8 June 05.



This author study was prepared in fulfillment of requirements for "Advanced Literature for Young Adults", LS5623, Texas Woman's University, Summer 2005.