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Among the Free by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Among the Free (2006)

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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I just finished re-reading the entire series (except book 1 - I figured I already knew the important stuff from the first two times through). And every time I read this series, Margaret Peterson Haddix blows my socks off all over again with her thought-provoking themes, hard questions, and characters that I empathize with.
I have to say that somewhere in the middle of the re-reading I got kind of bored with the middle books, which basically just inch forward toward that far-off goal of defeating the government. But things - important things! - happen in those books, and when looking back I suppose I can't complain.

So, the premise of the series is that there was a famine many years ago, and so the government became incredibly restrictive, limiting food and resources so that there will always be enough for everyone. But there's one more very important, very drastic decision that they made - they outlawed having more than two children. A very Chinese-ish scenario, I know. But this time the government isn't just restrictive, it's evil. And by evil, I mean killing-innocent-children-in-horrible-ways-just-because-they-were-born-third evil. You see, not everyone follows this law, put into place only twelve years before. People accidentally have another child. Some might even on purpose have more, because they want more. But these children can never go outside, can never run or jump or shout, or be an active and visible part of the family. Hide. Whisper. Sit. Don't move, don't talk. That's all these children ever know. But these kids want to do more than just hide in fear of the Population Police knocking on their door someday - they want freedom. And that is what this series is all about.

Luke Garner, a farm boy and a third child, started this series off when he discovered a neighbor shadow child and made friends with her - the first person outside the family he ever met. She was determined to set things right, and when Jen (the girl)'s efforts came to a tragic end, Luke made the decision to leave the safety of his home and try to make a difference. Some of the other books in the series were from the point of view of other kids he met (Nina, Trey, Matthias), but I always found those to be the excess books - the real series were the Luke books - or Lee, as he was known as on his fake I.D. card.

Now Luke works for the Population Police (who run the entire government - rather convenient for the plot, but not entirely ridiculous), undercover alongside his friends as they work to overthrow the government. But when he is told to shoot an old woman who refuses to obey the Population Police, he is forced to make a decision. He drops the gun and runs, setting off a chain of events that go all the way to Population headquarters.

This really is the book where everything comes together, and where all the hard questions really come to the front. Luke struggles with people who will conform to either side of the struggle, do whatever is best in the moment for his personal gain. He wonders if his small contributions are even useful, wether the little things can ever add up to be as useful as the big things. And I think the biggest questions throughout the series, he struggles with the concept of freedom - something he and his friends have obviously had very little of. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book, that illustrates this nicely:


"He remembered how baffled he'd been all along, trying to understand freedom. In the beginning, all he'd wanted was a chance to run across his family's front yard or ride in the back of the pickup truck to town, the way his brothers did. He'd seen how the Chiutzans acted like freedom just meant getting to shoot anyone they wanted to shoot; how Eli and the others in his village thought they were free because they were ready to die. He'd watched the people celebrating at the Population Police headquarters as if freedom were just a matter of getting free food.
But he understood now that freedom was more than that. In one sense, he'd been free all along."

( )
  Jaina_Rose | Mar 1, 2016 |
I'm glad I eventually finished the series, even though book 5, Among the Enemy was painfully monotonous. Perhaps Luke is just a better narrator than Trey, because I wasn't too terribly sick of Luke's introspection. Overall, the series sends a message about the importance of social action and the value of every human life. All of the narrators are so pure in their morality, given that their government had made the choice that they did not have the right to live; every single death is cushioned with judgement about how it was inexcusable and wrong. Time and time again the narrators sacrifice themselves to save the lives of some person with deplorable values and intentions, showing that even cruel dictators pointing a gun in your face should never be killed, even in self-defense. This is a little too simple for me, but parents and teachers (Unitarian ones especially) can feel good about putting this into a child's hands, feeling confident that you may be helping him or her develop into a devout pacifist. At the very least this will help them consider moral, philosophical questions for themselves while simultaneously enjoying a suspenseful escape. The series works for students with average to high reading comprehension.

I recommend the whole series to kids grades 5-8.

( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 10, 2015 |
  BRCSBooks | Sep 12, 2013 |
I had some problems with the books in this series. They varied from a little under three to above 3-1/2 stars but overall it was a very good story and very well conceived and told. I definitely feel it's more than a worthwhile read. ( )
  Yona | May 2, 2013 |
Not the strongest ending, but still very good. I like how it pulls everyone back together for the end. ( )
  benuathanasia | Sep 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0689857993, Paperback)


Luke Garner is a third-born in a restrictive society that allows only two children per family. Risking his life, he came out of hiding to fight against the Population Police laws. Now, in the final volume of Margaret Peterson Haddix's suspenseful Shadow Children series, Luke inadvertently sets off a rebellion that results in the overthrow of the government. The people are finally free. But who is in charge now? And will this new freedom be everything they had hoped?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:03 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When thirteen-year-old Luke Garner unwittingly sets off a rebellion which sweeps the country and ousts the Population Police from power, he quickly realizes that the new regime is corrupt and he may hold the only key to true freedom.

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