Among the Hidden
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
First is the worst, second is the best, third is the - um, never mind. Here's what you need to know: Third children are outlawed in Luke's world.
Luke is a third child.
Ergo, Luke is outlawed. Ergo, his parents and two older brothers have to go to extreme lengths to make sure that he is completely hidden from anyone outside the family. Because Luke Garner isn't even supposed to exist. But he does—and he's not about to stop existing.
All By Myself
Of course, that doesn't mean his existence is all unicorns and rainbows. In fact, it's more like Forever Alone and Celine Dion music, because poor twelve-year-old Luke doesn't have a friend in the world. Not even his siblings seem to like him all that much. Worse, through most of the book he's forced to stay in his attic-room all day, every day. Belle has more freedom in the Beast's enchanted castle than this kid does in his own home.
Let's take a look at everything Luke's not allowed to do:
- definitely not supposed to be near any windows (1.15)
- can't even touch the computer, let alone use it (16.18)
- and forget about even stepping foot in the kitchen (4.7)
With no Buzzfeed, no DS3, and not even much in the way of books, Luke has a hard time filling up all the hours of the day. He reads a little, thinks a little, and looks out the window a lot. Rinse and repeat.
Of course, all this alone time plays a crucial role in make Luke the special snowflake that he is. It helps that, once he meets Jen, his reading becomes a little more interesting. He learns all about the Government and the famines (19.3), teaches his dad all about hydroponics (19.18), and can even decipher all the Government's fancy letters when his family can't (21.3). Being alone may not do much for his social skills, but it turns out to do quite a lot for his education. Guess there is something to be said for homeschooling.
Look a Little Bit Closer
Being alone all the time also means that Luke develops his very own superpower of observation. He spends so much time gazing out the window at his neighbors that when it comes time to sneak into the kitchen, he watches everyone leave, "keeping track so carefully that he made scratches on the wall, and counted the scratches twice again at the end" (8.8). One of the few perks of being left alone all day is that you can really work on your attention to detail. (That skill should come in handy on all the resumes Luke isn't going to be writing.)
That same careful attention comes into play when he's plotting to sneak out of his house, spending "entire days plotting his route" (12.10)—which he then pulls off. All this close attention also helps his interpersonal skills, like when he suggests to Jen that "people just have different ways of expressing what they feel" (20.31). Pretty impressive for a kid who doesn't get out much.
But here's our question: this revelation—when he figures out that people have different ways of expressing themselves—also leads Luke to come to the conclusion that no one in his family would be able to handle constantly hiding as well as he has. Now, we agree with that. But we're not sure if Luke was so good at hiding because his personality suited him to being locked up for years—or if being locked up for years made him into the careful, sensitive, attentive guy that he is. In other words, is Luke's ability to notice things that no one would part of his nature—or did it develop from the way we was nurtured? Or (cop out alert) is it just a little bit of both?
Luke isn't left home alone all the time. Sometimes his family sticks around to hang out with him—and by family, we mean his parents and two brothers. As far as extended relatives go, "of course, they didn't even know he existed" (5.3). Of course.
Luke's family may love him, but they also treat him like an outsider. To be fair, they can't help it. They have to have a routine down pat to "hide all evidence that Luke ever existed" (1.24), just in case they have an unexpected visitor. Just try a little thought experiment: imagine you're eating dinner with your family, when someone knocks at the door. Your family immediately pushes you away from the table, hides your silverware, and gets back to eating as though you didn't even exist.
Ouch, right? It'd be pretty easy to start feeling like you didn't exist, or that your family might one day just up and leave you. When Jen asks Luke if his brothers would ever rat him out to the Population Police, he realizes that "they barely took time even to tease him anymore" and he "sometimes felt like [they] had outgrown him" (21.48). Not a whole lot of brotherly love there, is there?
In some ways, Luke's experience is just an amplified version of what most people feel at some point growing up—like outsiders in their own families. You know that adolescent feeling that no one understands you and your family wouldn't even notice if you disappeared?
For Luke, it's not just an emo phase.
Go On, Make Me
At the beginning of Among the Hidden, Luke is content to obey his mom. She tells him to hide? He hides. She tells him to hide in an attic all day? He may not like it, but he hides. Eventually, though, he does start to make is own decisions—some very grown-up decisions. Case(s) in point?
- sacrificing the best part of his day so that his mother gets more rest.
- blatantly defying his parents' orders by sneaking into the kitchen and, later on, outside into the real world.
- leaving his family and taking up the life of Lee Grant.
Let's investigate further.
Giving up his kiddie bedtime routine may not seem like a big deal, but it really is: Luke lets go of something he cares about for someone else. That's not a kid's choice, and it's definitely not an easy one. Despite putting on a brave face, Luke still has to "[swallow] a lump in his throat" (7.25) while making his declaration.
Sneaking out of his house isn't just an act of rebellion, either. Luke is making an informed decision while fully aware that he's disobeying strict orders from his parents. (This is how strict: His father says, "You stay hidden. That's an order" [8.24]. Roger that, Mr. Garner.) Just by stepping out that door, Luke is (1) taking steps toward an independent identity, and (2) accepting responsibility for his actions.
For Luke, growing up requires separation from his parents, whether it's voicing his own opinions or taking his own actions, like acquiring a fake I.D. In the end, Luke becomes his own person, separate from his family: he becomes Lee Grant.Luke's Timeline