Shadow Children are Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix; published by Scholastic, New York, 1998; 153 pages.

Luke’s mom always wanted four children so she could name them after the Gospel writers.  But after Matthew and Mark, the government instituted a two-child limit for all families.  When she got pregnant for the third time, she hid her pregnancy and ultimately kept the child, Luke, hidden as well.  Life was restricted to the house and the farm for Luke; no school or friends like his brothers.  Then the government bought the woods that had kept their farm secluded from view to build a housing project for Barons.  Barons were made up of the few families that still had privileges in the new order.  This dystopia was created in response to a world-wide famine.  By controlling family size, crops grown, and income levels (which prevents conspicuous consumption), the government hoped to prevent another catastrophe.  Instead, they created a hidden population of “Shadow Children” and a small group of Barons that live above the rules.  Luke is shocked to discover another Shadow Child, Jen, in the new development of Barons.  It is Jen that teaches Luke about the discrepencies between the government’s rules and life before the laws.  It is Jen that works underground to create a world in which farmers grow whatever crops they want and families can have as many children as they want.  When her rally for the Shadow Children goes horribly wrong, Jen’s dad helps Luke get a fake ID to move out of the shadows.  As the story ends, Luke leaves the family farm behind and vows to free all of the children living in the shadows.

I was struck by the similarities between this book and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  Both books feature strong teens determined to unmask their utopian societies to reveal the dystopia.  I found Among the Hidden much easier to read with very short chapters and lower-level vocabulary.  I think it would be a good alternative to The Giver for reluctant or less-capable children to read and discuss.  In addition, Among the Hidden is the first book in the Shadow Children sequence.  If children enjoyed this book, it would be easy to convince them to read the next book in the series and hopefully “hook” them on reading.

I read this book to participate in a middle school reading discussion group (thanks, Jill, for inviting me to participate and add another experience to my library education!!!).  In researching the book, I learned that it has earned numerous awards, not the least of which was YALSA’s “Top 10 Best Books for YA” in 1999.  It is also a choice for YALSA’s “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.”  If the discussion group likes this book, we will read the second book in the series for November.  I’m hoping they will–I’d like to learn what happens to Luke and the other Shadow Children.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 5-8 (and older Hi-Lo readers)

AmongTheHiddenCover Art: The version I read had a pale, worried boy peering out from behind a shadowy tree trunk with other shadowy figures in the twilight image of a house.  Very interesting, it should pique the interest of the intended audience.  Why is he almost sick looking?  Why all the shadows?  It ties in very well with the title; and adding the name of the series helps generate interest as well.

From Reading List: Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults; Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers; Best Books for YA

You’ll enjoy this quick read, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter; published by Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2007; 236 pages.

Cammie Morgan’s sophomore year continues in this sequel to I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.  After her two week winter break, Cammie is quickly deposited in Washington, D.C. with her mother for debriefing of the fall term; in other words, about Josh.  Cammie has to choose between Josh and spy school, while taking a lie detector test.  What follows is another light-hearted retelling of the exploits of Cammie and three other Gallagher Girls.  But this time, boys have infiltrated the school in an exchange program with Blackthorne (the boys’ spy school). 

While there are details of the school work, the most interesting part of the story is how Cammie deals with a new boy after her crushing relationship with Josh; as well as how Cammie and new friend Zach encounter and deal with Josh, who is now apparently dating DeeDee.  Typical teen angst in an atypical setting provides typical teens with a storyline they can relate to in a circumstance that many teens may fantasize about.  I know I dreamed I was a secret agent sent to live with my parents (who were definitely not my birth parents; they were European royalty for whom I’d sacrificed all to protect them).  Anyway, a heart-pounding mission ends the book and leaves us wondering what the Gallagher Girls will have to face in their junior year.

I enjoyed this quick read for its humor but also for the naive teen perspective on what constitutes a life-and-death situation.  Great prose?  Not really, but for entertainment and a quick diversion, this is a great book in a fun series.  I also appreciate that the girls are typical teens but are also independent and empowered: Go Gallagher Girls!

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 6-9

cross my heartCover Art: The same image of a teen in uniform whose face is unrecognizable is used again (nice job tying the series together), but this time, the blue theme is replace with green and her fingers are crossed, tying in with the title of the book.  Teens will recognize the cover and pick this up to continue the series.  The plaid spine with ransom-letters in the title will also stand out on the shelves.  I think this cover works well for its intended audience.

Suggested Reading List: Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

I’d Tell You I Love You…but you’d still have to read the book!

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter; published by Hyperion, New York, 2006; 284 pages.

Cammie Morgan is a legacy at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women.  She’s roomed with her best friends, Liz and Bex, since seventh grade.  Now 15 and starting her sophomore year, Cammie is about to test the boundaries of going to a school where your mother is the headmistress.  She also has to find a way to welcome the new rich girl, whose father is a Congressman (and she uses the “b” word!), into her circle of friends; and to date Josh, the dreamy off-limits Townie, without being caught.  All of the pedantic angst, drama and hilarity of being a teen girl are in this book.  But there’s a secret, an extremely important secret: Gallagher Girls are in training to be spies.  Quite a twist on a teenager’s tale!

I loved this quick read.  It was like a cross between Get Smart!, Spy Kids, Mission: Impossible, and Harry Potter with a little Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants thrown in for good measure.  Light reading to be sure, but that is why this book made the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list.  Not every story has to enlighten or uplift or educate…sometimes a good book provides escape to another world.  I want to be a Gallagher Girl!  I did find Josh too-good-to-be-true and was disappointed that the abhorrent behavior of Dillon was not brought to Josh’s attention.  But overall, as a quick pick, I was pleased with the book.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 6-9

ITYILYBTIHTKYCover Art:  The image of the prep-school girl in uniform, face cut off to avoid identification, and the use of a typewriter-style font with cut-0ut ransom-note letters for “love” and “kill” are very effective on this cover.  I think it will appeal to teens, especially middle schoolers, and especially girls.  The school uniform plaid of the spine and the ransom-note font mixed with typewriter type was hard to read on the shelf (I had to use the call number *gasp* to locate the book).

From Reading List:  Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Spies and Intrigue List

The Awakening mashup introduces super kids

Quantum Prophecy 1: The Awakening by Michael Carroll; published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2006; 264 pages.

Colin and Danny are neighbors, classmates and friends.  On the eve of Mystery Day, Danny miraculously saves a friend’s little sister from imminent disaster.  Could he have superhero powers?  When Colin’s family’s annual Mystery Day party wraps up, Colin walks Danny home and Danny shares a secret: he does have superhuman abilities.  Mystery Day is a holiday celebrated all over the world, a memorial to an epic battle when superheroes and supervillains fought and no one won; in fact, they all disappeared.  Ten years later, Danny learns that he is the son of Quantum, a superhero with the powers of prophecy.  Colin is jealous of his friend’s powers, but discovers he has powers of his own—and a pair of superhero parents.  Because their powers were lost on the original Mystery Day, the adults are helpless to stop an evil plot to usurp Danny’s and Colin’s powers to create a single, superhuman supervillain.  Working together, the children and adults foil the evil plan, at least for now.  As the book ends, we are left to wonder if Quantum’s original prophecy for Danny will yet come to pass:  Will he lead an evil army of destruction?  Only the rest of the books in the series can answer that question!

One thought kept me from giving this book a higher quality rating: Carroll has morphed X-Men with The Incredibles to capitalize on the popularity of both.  I mean, really, Energy’s eyes turn white as she unleashes lightning?  How very much like Storm, from X-Men!  And, come on, children left in the dark about their parents’ superhero past?  Disney/Pixar covered that in The Incredibles.  Most young adults will recognize the mashup.

Does it work?  I can see the attraction for tweens—superhero kids saving the planet from evil forces.  On a superficial level, I found the plot interesting as Carroll let it unfold slowly and deliberately.  This isn’t great literature, but not all books have to be.  We all look for an opportunity to be entertained, to step into a world that’s not our own for a little vacation from reality.  In light of that, this would make a good series to recommend as summer reading for the middle school crowd or for reluctant readers (especially boys).  And that could explain the inclusion in the 2009 Popular Paperbacks list.

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 5-8

quantum prophecy the awakeningCover Art: The orange and grey color scheme, along with the sci-fi images, should appeal to the middle school crowd.  The spine, with dark grey type on a light grey background, was difficult to read, although the orange image from the cover may attract attention.

From Reading List: 2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Spies and Intrigue List

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