Kelly H. (Maybedog)'s Reviews > Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
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Apr 01, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: what-sf, what-middle-readers
Read in August, 2000

The issue faced by the characters in the book, that of overpopulation and what to do about it, is an important one, and deserves to have a children's book written about it. The possibility that we will one day be limited to two children or fewer per family, and people will undergo forced sterilization, is not so unlikely. China already has strict population control laws (one child) with heavy fines for violators.

However the author simplifies the issue to a simple black and white set of extremes. She fails to fully examine the issue of overpopulation. In the book, the need for population leveling is solely due to food shortages. The characters assert that it's mostly due to mismanagement by the government that the famine happened at all. In fact, everything bad appears to be the fault of the controlling, fascist, yet inept government. Even in the end, the author doesn't appear to grasp the reality of the effect of our population explosion: Food is not the only issue. Others include, "Where will we put all the waste from these people? How will there be enough drinking water? How will we have enough energy to run the machines we need to support our society? Where will resources come from to create things like clothes, furniture, houses, cars? How do we deal with all the pollution this manufacturing brings with that many more people? And how will we survive when we've cut down all the trees and there is no oxygen being produced?

The simple answer given in the book seems to be "we could police ourselves--some people could have more kids if others had fewer". And who does that policing? We certainly aren't doing it now. What are realistic ways we can address this population issue?

The author also appears to be showing how fascist and evil the government is by showing how they outlawed junk food and even meat. Vegetarians are truly the evil of the future. ;) This is an interesting absurdity in that more calories are contained in fat than in anything else, so if food were scarce, it would make more sense to make food very high in fat.

One excellent point the author does assert is that those who make the laws often don't follow them. Exceptions are made when it is convenient for those in power. This is an excellent point and I would have liked this to be expanded a bit more. Especially since those in power (the U.S. right now) currently use up many times more resources per person than the non-powerful (3rd world countries). The barons in the book, by excepting themselves from the rules, are causing even greater harm. Yet, even that point isn't explained, just inferred.

Perhaps the simplicity is necessary for a children's story, and yet, the heaviness of the topic and the tragedy of the plot, are all mature enough themes that any reader of the book should be able to handle the additional complexity. The author also only shows one side of the story: that of the victims of an extremist, totalitarian government who dealt inappropriately with a very real disaster.

What I would have liked to have seen would have been an afterword that addressed some of these issues on a level kids could understand. Just presenting the ideas in a fictional context may be too confusing. Other award-winning children's books that either deal with confusing, heavy issues, or take place in other mystifying eras, have afterwards for more information. I think such a beast would help this book tremendously. As it is, I am curious to know what children reading this book come away with thinking: Is overpopulation bad? Or is the government bad and we don't really need to worry about overpopulation? Because I fear the latter is the message children will walk away with after reading this novel, I have to be very wary about recommending this book.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Your concerns may be valid, however, if you study history, around the turn of the century (1900), there was widespread concern about what people were going to do with the incredible increase in horse excrement in the streets of cities. Then, amazingly, someone came up with automobiles!! Man is flexible, if allowed to think on his own. When there are too many regulations inhibiting this, then we do face huge issues. But, be confident that, if allowed, the human mind is able to address any situation that will arise, including your concern with over-population.


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Thank you for your comment. I do agree that over-regulation is not the answer to overpopulation at this point but it is such a terrifyingly real problem, I think it's critical that children are aware of the reasons why it's a problem and what can be done to help before we get to the point where we need extreme measures. Blaming the government will not solve anything. Coming up with solutions, using our very flexible minds as you say, will. So I think we agree but I wanted to clarify. :)


Loren This is exactly what I feared about this book. When my neice (she's ten) and I got into a discussion about finite resources and world hunger, she referenced this book as an example to the potential hazards of population control. She think she believes that China is evil now. lol. Well she said she's liking it, so I'll have to pick it up and read it anyway so we can talk it all out. Thanks for the heads up.


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Oh, that's hard! It's wonderful that she has you to talk about these issues with. So many kids are never exposed to new ideas or important issues, or if they are, they are given a twisted few of the situation, like in this book.

Thanks for your comment.


Kubilay I think that this is very professional review. İt is including useful things for readers. İt is exactly on subject.


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Thank you so much, Mert. That's kind of you to say. I'm glad my review is helpful to people.


hpboy13 Great review. I do think that Haddix had some of the things you brought up in mind, and might be saving them for sequels: Jen's dad says that both positions of "overpopulation is fine!" and "not enough food!" are lying or exaggerating. It could be that "not enough food" is the Government's shorthand for controlling the population precisely for he issues you laid out, which are much less palatable to society.


Kelly H. (Maybedog) Thank you hpboy13. That's kind of you to say. I admit I didn't read any further and it would be great if that happened. I would love it if you let me know if you end up reading the sequels and what you find.

Thanks again!


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