Among the Hidden
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books, 1998
The first book in the Shadow Children Sequence (sequence being the author's choice of words; most of us might consider it a series). It is a children's/young adult science fiction novel, and significantly, it is a quite good one. It's targeted at kids from ages 8 to 12, although it is quite enjoyable for older folks too. It is easy reading and easy for kids to relate to, but it is also a good example of social-political science fiction; a rare breed indeed.
Twelve-year-old Luke Garner is a third - an illegal third child, an accident that the government has declared not only illegal, but a killing offence. He lives hidden in his parent's house, running to hide anytime a stranger approaches the house, unable to go to school or talk to anyone other than his parents and older brothers. Fortunately, his parents are farmers, so he is able to go outside around the farm as long as they are careful - until one day a subdevelopment is planned to replace the woods next to the farm.
His life becomes much less pleasant; not only is he trapped indoors 24 hours a day, but he is banned from looking out the windows, or walking in front of them. His parents are convinced that the government can see through the TV and computer, so he is limited to reading books. He's not completely obedient, though, and he eventually discovers that he can spy on the neighbors through the slats in the attic vents. And it looks like there is someone else spying out from the house next door...
Okay, so this isn't the most original story idea ever, but it's for kids. It is a great introduction to science fiction that is more than flashy adventures and spaceships. In fact, there is essentially no science fiction in this book; the repressive government is quickly sending the country back to the early 20th century, and desktop computers are still cutting edge technology. This could just as easily be an alternative-history tale set in the 1980s.
It is rather surprisingly anti-government, considering the target audience. The themes of repression and brutality are a bit strong for an eight-year-old, and even a bit more than one would expect a 12-year-old to enjoy. But at the same time, the story provides a logical and interesting history to explain how all of this came about. The violence is reported but unseen, and the oppression is presented at levels that a kids can feel appropriately. Overall, I would probably recommend this for kids 10-14, but then, my hypothetical kids would not have the exposure to violent movies that most do.
Among the Hidden is only 150 pages long, and is a quick read. However, it also ends at the start of the real adventure, so be ready to move right on into the next book. Speaking of which, the second book in the sequence is Among the Impostors.