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Literature / Shadow Children

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Malthusian Catastrophe for the Young Adult set, written by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

20 Minutes into the Future, laws have been passed strictly prohibiting families from having more than two children, allegedly due to the risk of overpopulation. Illicit "third children" are killed, imprisoned, or, more often than not, hidden from the government. The seven-book series follows the experiences of the hidden kids as they come of age, and as a movement begins to overthrow the totalitarian government.


While most of the books followed Luke, the character introduced in the first and most famous of the series (Among the Hidden), the third, fifth and sixth books followed minor characters introduced previously, while still furthering the general plot of the series, and off-screen interactions between other supporting characters were alluded to, particularly in the denouements of each book. This created a sense of a larger world and overarching plot, even though the actual plots of the books tended to feel claustrophobic (justifiably so, as the characters would usually be undercover, on the run, or both).


Novels in the series:

  • Among the Hidden (1998)
  • Among the Imposters (2001)
  • Among the Betrayed (2002)
  • Among the Barons (2003)
  • Among the Brave (2004)
  • Among the Enemy (2005)
  • Among the Free (2006)

This series provides examples of:

  • A Day in the Limelight: Among the Betrayed, Among the Brave, and Among the Enemy focus on Nina, Trey, and Matthias respectively.
  • Affably Evil: Several of the Population Police officers, like the one who speaks to Mr. Talbot in book 1, and in book 6, Teddy, the Commander, and several officers are all friendly and easy going. The Commander in Among the Brave is also quite nice to Trey when addressed in an formal manner, he does get irritated when not getting a fax. Mike's a subversion, he's a mole and not an enemy.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: We don't know when the series takes place and we're not supposed to. Haddix said this deliberate.
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  • Ascended Extra: Luke's brother Mark becomes The Lancer to Trey in Among the Brave.
  • Becoming the Mask: A rare forced version in which Luke must become Lee Grant in Among the Barons.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: several Population Police members seem to be guilty of this.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Most of the Hendricks school teachers deliberately, as people without their neuroses would be more likely to notice how many of the students are shadow children.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Luke impersonates a boy by the name of Lee Grant, who died in a skiing accident, for most of the series, It was more complicated than that - notably, it definitely wasn't an accident.
  • Defector from Decadence: In Among the Brave Trey witnesses a Population Police sentry working with several people stealing food. a news broadcast later shows that at least some of them were caught and executed.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The final book features a stable worker from the Population Police headquarters whose legs were broken by the population police after he suggested that they'd be able to shovel manure faster with different shovels.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Jen Talbot. Her death is the impetus for practically the rest of the series.
  • Dystopia: Oh yeah. The country is run by the totalitarian Population Police and they're very strict on people having more than two kids. If citizens have more than two kids, the penalty is either fine or execution (depending on the mood of the judge) or the Population Police just kills the kids.
  • Gaia's Lament: Droughts sometime before the series caused food shortages, forcing population control. At one point, in Among the Hidden, Luke's dad mentions that goverment banned pets
  • Gaslighting: Mr. Talbot does this to Nina. He lies to her that Jason named her as a fall guy, and offers to let her do the same to save herself. Then he further lies that three children are up to execution and Nina can save herself if she turns them in; when Nina hesitates because she doesn't want to die or hurt anyone, Mr. Talbot stages a breakout to motivate her. She even points out at the end that she doesn't even know why she believes him to tell the truth anymore.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Lampshaded by Nina and Mr. Talbot at the end of her story. As she points out, he lied to her about everything, gaslit her and forced her to make a Sadistic Choice, to prove her innocence. She even is perplexed as to why she doesn't hate him for it. Mr. Talbot can only laugh at the irony, because all he has were his intentions to protect the shadow children, and Nina really was one of them and not a spy.
  • Hero of Another Story: Mike/Nedley's actions as a revolutionary aren't shown, only when he needs to save someone, or help the protagonist. Mr. Talbot as well is implied to lead some sort of resistance.
  • Hide Your Children: The fate of any child born into a family that already has two offspring. They'll be killed if they aren't hidden.
  • Karma Houdini: Mr. Talbot for what he did to Nina. His intentions were to protect the shadow children with fake IDs, but he put her through a lot of gaslighting that would traumatize any child, regardless of their moral agenda. Not to mention she can't return to the boarding school with her fake ID because even if she was innocent, she'd be Convicted by Public Opinion thanks to him arresting her. She doesn't even hate him for it, which surprises her. His only defense is his intentions.
    • Oscar and Krakenoeur. are at large at the end of the final book, although they're fugitives, and their plans are ruined.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Oscar Wydell again. convincing just bout everyone he's on their side and that they should follow his orders in order to gain power for himself.
  • Manipulative Editing: It's revealed that Mr. Talbot faked a confession where Jason sold out Nina, though he did name her as his accomplice before the interrogation to save her from being executed.
  • Mirroring Factions: As much as the revolutionaries try to claim the moral high-ground, they can be as pointlessly callous as the Government. Case in point, Mr. Talbot's gaslighting of Nina after Jason named her as his accomplice, when she knew nothing of his plot to out the shadow children like her and her only mistake was to fall in love with Jason. When the village Lee and the officer threaten revolt, their first action is to kill the abusive officer and their second action is to try and kill the junior officer after he tries to take some food. Much later they shoot an unarmed truck driver to hijack the food he was carrying (and at that point in the story it's been established that many government workers were strong-armed into their positions because it was the only way to get food).
  • The Mole:
    • Nedley/Mike in both of his appearances. Being a spy within the population police whose identity isn't revealed for a long time.
    • Mr. Talbot as well, although that's revealed much earlier.
  • Morality Pet: It turns out that Jason really did care about Nina, and his naming her as an accomplice was to spare her from the massacre that would ensue from outing the shadow children. When she learns that he wasn't executed and he survived, however, and after the hell, she just went through, she no longer loves him and is prepared to fight against him.
  • The Mole: Jason Barstow in Among the Impostors, being a Population Police spy among the Third Children community.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The Population Police-controlled government is overthrown while Luke is hiding in the woods in the seventh book. Granted, it was because his televised action inspired people to revolt, and the plot's not over yet.
  • Population Control: The story is set in a country where families are limited to only two children per household. This is strictly enforced by the Population Police.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Luke was in on the plot to figure out if Nina was a mole or not. Which meant he condoned her being gaslit and tortured for weeks. Talbot pretty much admits he was justified because of his intentions to protect kids like Luke. So the moral is if you suspect a ten-year old girl of being a Mole for the enemy because another enemy named her as an accomplice, by all means, arrest her and assess her innocence by tempting her with a fake plea deal that involves arresting three more small children, thereby destroying her old life and old fake ID. And don't even admit that you may have gone overboard with the interrogation, instead you can get away with admitting that good intentions are sometimes not enough.
  • Put on a Bus: Most of the teachers and students at the Hendricks School are rounded up and sent to labor camps in Among The Brave, it is unclear how many survived to be liberated.
  • Sadistic Choice: As part of her gaslighting, Mr. Talbot instructs Nina to get three captive children to admit they are illegal shadow children, or she'll be executed. The assumption here is that if Nina were innocent, she wouldn't make that choice. Which actually makes no sense because she might also sell out the kids to not die. The kids are revealed that they were in on the plot, and were seeing if Nina was really the spy. Nina hesitates for so long, because she doesn't want to die or get anyone killed, that it takes Mr. Talbot arranging an escape attempt and a whole faked captivity plot for her to refuse to sell out the other children.
  • Sent Into Hiding: Due to a strict policy where parents cannot have more than two children, any third (or more) children born must be kept secret from everyone; main character Luke spent the entire first book just hiding out in his family's home, and met a third-child girl across the street who did the same.
  • Stepford Smiler: In Among the Barons, Mrs. Grant is this, having to pretend that her eldest son isn't dead. Wanting to mourn him openly causes her to want to openly fake his death, which would require Luke surrendering his fake identity.
  • Trust Password: Trey survives by using it by accident. It's liber.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Jen and her chatroom in the first book. Among the Free features Simone Tucker and Jacob, a trio of kids who've commandeered the Population Police's news station after their headquarters is deserted and broadcast the story of their fall. across the country with no small amount of gusto.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several characters have their fates left up in the air:
    • The Chauffeur from "Among the Brave" was revealed to be a resistance member, and joins with the others to fight them from inside the Population Police, he's never heard from again. Nina does mention that she and all the other infiltrators were unevenly distributed, and were sent to different areas.
    • Nedley was also introduced in that book, later appearing in the next book under the name Mike. He's absent from the final book.
    • Jason Barstow has a cameo in book 6, but after that he disappears, presumably having fled.
    • Unlike his father, it's never confirmed if Jonas Sabine's death sentence was carried out in "Among The Brave".
    • Jen's chatroom pals Yolanda, Pat and Sean all showed a little reluctance at attending Jen's rally and it's unknown if they did attend and die with everyone else or just kept their heads down afterwards, although the fact that none of them answered when Luke checked Jen's chatroom afterwards implies the former.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?:
    • Matthias get's shanghaied into the Population Police by an officer named Teddy. Teddy, Mike and all the other officers are friendly, hard working people who actually believe that what they're doing is for the best. Teddy later dies handling poisoned ID tags, and a memorial is set up for him.
    • In the books climax, Matthias and Mike knock out a guard, raid the food storage, and set it to detonate. Only to realize that the guard the knocked out was left unconscious inside, and Matthias goes back to save him.