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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 the Reverse Mole and not an enemy.
  • Ascended Extra: Luke's brother Mark becomes The Lancer to Trey in Among the Brave.
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  • Becoming the Mask: A rare forced version in which Luke must become Lee Grant in Among the Barons.
  • 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.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Jen Talbot. Her death is the impetus for practically the rest of the series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 him.
  • 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.
  • Not So Different: 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).
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Trust Password: Trey survives by using it by accident. It's liber.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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