Margaret Peterson Haddix's award-winning Shadow Children series features seven books for young readers in grades six through eight. Shrouded with mystery, deception and defiance these dystopian books explore deep topics with some dark material such as death and government control as population laws force illegal children into hiding.
Among the Hidden
Due to strict population laws, third children aren't allowed by the government in this world. In the first book readers meet Luke, a twelve-year-old boy with limited freedom because he is a secret third child in his family. As the neighborhood develops around his family farm, Luke's life becomes even more restricted out of fear he'll be discovered. One day Luke notices a mysterious child boldly looking out windows from one of the new mansions built nearby. After gathering up his courage, Luke sets out to meet this person who turns out to be a third child named Jen. Jen is not content to be hidden and seeks Luke's help in freeing kids like them everywhere. Mature topics included in the story are abortion, breaking and entering and the killing of children.
The story centers on the Garner family and their new neighbors, the Talbot's. Many of these characters are present throughout the series.
- Luke Garner is a twelve-year-old boy living on a farm with his family, Luke is a forbidden third child and lives his life in hiding. Although cautious, Luke is also brave.
- Edna Garner is Luke's mom who is full of optimism and positivity.
- Harlan Garner is Luke's dad is very strict and harsh on most occasions. He is overprotective and a hard worker.
- Matthew and Mark Garner are Luke's brothers. Matthew, Luke's older brother, is the spitting image of their dad. Mark is the second child who enjoys teasing his younger brother, but also serves up some good advice.
- Jen Talbot is Luke's neighbor. Jen is also a third child living in hiding with her high profile family from the Baron class. Jen wants nothing more than to free all the world's third children and participates in secret chats and government protests.
- Mr. George Talbot is Jen's dad and Luke's neighbor who works as a government lawyer, but claims to be a secret double agent of sorts. He helps Luke find a way to come out of hiding.
Awards and Reviews
Listed as a Best Book for Young Adults in 1999 by the Young Adult Library Services Association, the first book in the series won many state awards including the 2001 California Young Readers Medal and the 2002 Nutmeg Children's Book Award. Common Sense Media gives the book four out of five stars for engaging young minds and including positive role models.
Among the Imposters
Readers continue Luke's story as he takes on a new identity posing as a boy who recently died. Thanks to this fake I.D., Luke gets to leave his hiding place at home and attend Hendrick's School for Boys as Lee Grant. This new life isn't drastically better than his previous life, but Luke finds the opportunity to change his situation forever. While not graphically detailed, the book contains discussions about nude women, torture and bullying.
While the story is still told from Luke's point of view, readers begin to meet new characters who will weave in and out of subsequent books.
- Lee Grant is a boy from a prominent Baron, or elite, family who died and Luke assumes his identity.
- Jason Barstow, also known as "Jackal Boy" by Luke, appears to be a bully. Jason leads the third children in meetings to plan action against the government.
- Mr. Josiah Hendricks is the owner of Hendrick's School for Boys. This wealthy man claims to be responsible for the creation of the two-child rule as a means to save a larger segment of the population during the famine.
Awards and Reviews
As a 2002 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers this book was also a nominee for the 2004 Iowa Teen Award and 2005 Buckeye Children's Book Award. A review from Publisher's Weekly says "this installment gets mired in too many confusing details," but also praises the author's ability to give the story a "nightmarish quality."
Among the Betrayed
Told from the perspective of Nina Idi, who is now a prisoner of the Population Police after being accused of conspiring with Jason Barstow, book three takes readers into the more complex world Luke lives in. While imprisoned, Nina meets a family of child prisoners and must decide if she's willing to give up other shadow children to save her life or give herself up to save others. Talk of torture and killing children is prevalent in this novel.
The first book narrated by a character other than Luke, this installment weaves together old and new characters to enhance the intricate plot.
- Nina Idi is a third child whose real name is Elodie Luria. Nina is a prisoner who shows extreme loyalty and bravery.
- Matthias is the older brother to Percy and Alia, and is tough and protective.
- Percy is a middle child who looks up to his big brother, Matthias.
- Alia is the youngest of the siblings, and shows she has great instincts.
- The Hating Man is the Population Police officer who interrogates and monitors Nina in prison.
Awards and Reviews
Among the Betrayed won the 2004-2005 Lamplighter Award and Goodreads readers give the third installment four out of five stars with reviewer Hailee saying "This book has great imagery and a great plot that keeps you interested."
Among the Barons
The Barons are the highest members of society and Luke has just become one of them thanks to his new identity as Lee Grant. As he attempts to blend in at school impersonating Lee, a big wrench is thrown in the plan. Lee's younger brother, Smits, is starting school too. Luke needs Smits and the entire Grant family to keep his secret, but is that possible for the grieving family? Lies, secret murder plots, and accidental death are portrayed in this book. "Readers might be frustrated that the author raises more questions than she answers," says a Publisher's Weekly review.
Readers follow favorite, trusted characters into the other side of their world where the rich and powerful reside with introductions to some of these elite characters.
- Smithfield "Smits" Grant is Lee's younger brother. He is spoiled and arrogant but also grieving the loss of his brother.
- Oscar is Smits' bodyguard. He is a muscular guy with bad intentions.
- The Grants are Smit's and Lee's parents. They are among the richest people in the country.
Among the Brave
When Trey seeks out help from Mr. Talbot, he's lucky to escape the Population Police. His friends, including Luke/Lee are on the run and getting captured, so Trey must find a way to help. Trey and Luke's brother, Mark, set out on a mission to save third children who have been captured. On this mission, Trey discovers a way he can infiltrate the Population Police and work from the inside. Mature topics like death and imprisonment of children are prominent. Reviewer Bridget raves "the tempo really picks up" and this book is "a suspenseful and gripping read."
Old and new characters' lives cross paths as the action heats up in the series.
- Trahern Cromwell Torrance, also known as "Trey," is a third child and friend of Luke's from school. Trey is a smart boy with strong survival skills and a lack of confidence who gets thrust into a position of leadership.
- Mrs. Talbot is the Garner family's neighbor. She is also a doctor.
- Nedley is a rebel determined to take down the Population Police.
Among the Enemy
When Matthias, a third child, accidentally saves a Population Police officer's life, he gets a free pass to secretly join the Population Police. While in training, Mathias finds Nina and must decide whether he can help save the other shadow children. Serious injury and death are detailed in the book.
As the Shadow Children and their accomplices begin to infiltrate powerful places, more officers and leaders are introduced.
- Officer Tidwell, "Tiddy" is a Population Police officer.
- Commander is the leader of the base of Population Police headquarters who befriends Matthias.
- Mike is a Population Police agent who helps Matthias get to safety.
Awards and Reviews
Among the Enemy was nominated in 2007 for the Buckeye Children's Book Award and Amazon customers give this penultimate book four and a half out of five stars with reviewers raving, "I don't understand why this novel series isn't adapted to the small screen."
Among the Free
Without trying, Luke begins the shadow children's revolution. The government is overthrown and everyone is free. Who will take over leadership and will freedom be as glorious as third children imagined? Kid readers love the final book giving it five out of five stars and saying, "it's so inspirational."
As the storyline is tied up, many characters from the series reappear along with a few new allies.
- Eli is a man from a nearby village who feels bad for betraying a third child and seeks to repent by helping Luke.
- Philip Twinings is a news reporter intent on giving the people a voice.
Out in the Open
Great children's literature, like the Shadow Children series, give young readers a chance to explore difficult topics like population control and children's rights. If you're looking for an enlightening read that takes older kids beyond their typical happy fiction, this one's for you.