Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Post number fifty-four is for Margaret Peterson Haddix's Among the Hidden, a required reading assignment for my Fantasy Lit course. The book is the first of five all taking place in a sort of dystopian US, where the government is totalitarian and has implemented a Population Law. The books have been around for a long time now, but I never was really interested in reading them (and still wouldn't have looked at the first one, if it weren't required), most likely because dystopian fiction doesn't really do it for me. But this book was a super-fast, easy read, and quite the page-turner once the main character meets Jen.
Brief spoilery thoughts below.
Luke, the main character, is a "hidden" child, i.e. one that shouldn't have been born because the Population Law indicates that families can only have two children. Luke is the third, so he has to stay hidden away from everyone. This okay, until a new housing development tears down the woods surrounding his family's farm, and he's not allowed outside. The family gets more and more stringent about what he can and can't do (way more can'ts than cans, obviously), but one day while looking out toward the new development, he sees a face in the window of the neighbor's house, when he'd already seen all four of them leave. This face is Jen, a hidden child, and once Luke works up the courage, he goes over to the house to meet her and they become friends.
It's at this point that the book really picked up; prior to this, it was sort of dragging, because Haddix was trying to set up the world and explain the laws and the state of the US government (totalitarian). Jen's family is from the upper class – called Barons – and her dad works for the government, so they get a lot of perks, like super nice houses, junk food to eat, etc. Luke's family, meanwhile, struggles financially, especially when the government declares they can no longer raise their hogs.
Jen is a bit of a radical thinker; she wants "thirds" to have the same rights as everyone else, and she's willing to fight for that belief. Luke, on the other hand, is scared and doesn't want to take a stand; he tells her at one point that it's people like her who change the world, while people like him just sit and wait for things to happen.
What really struck me with all this was how incredibly selfish the parents who disobey the Population Law are. Yes, it's a stupid law, but they are basically having a child that will have no freedom growing up, and maybe even after that, because there's no guarantee that they could get a fake ID and do something as adults. The kids can't go outside, can't go to school, can't go ANYWHERE. They're stuck inside these houses, trapped, and that's just NO way for anyone to live. And that selfishness really made me angry.
My reaction to this book was similar to The Hunger Games, although not in regard to the emotional impact it had on me. Maybe if I were an elementary student reading this it would, but for me myself, as a twenty-something Graduate student, it didn't. What did strike me in terms of similarities, though, was the restrictions that the government had placed on both worlds, and the ways they used their jobs/regions/etc. to dictate who does what and where was almost exactly the same. The only difference is that in this book, the US is still the same, although the initial democratic government has been overthrown, and is now run by a "General" instead of a "President". But whatever; the situations are nearly the same, although at least in Among the Hidden they didn't have to go fight to the death. :-P
Anyway, it was an okay book, but not nearly interesting or entertaining enough for me to read the rest of the series.