Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review: AMONG THE FREE by Margaret Peterson Haddix


Rating: 3/5 stars

The final book in the Shadow Children Sequence takes us back to Luke’s point-of-view, thankfully. As can be inferred from the title, the shadow children finally get to be free in this book.

Among the Free felt a little anticlimactic to me if I’m being honest. There are going to be some minor spoilers ahead for some scenes in this book. 

The story starts with Luke working undercover for the resistance in the Population Police headquarters and getting chosen to go on a mission to some rural towns. While he’s in those towns, he deserts the Population Police and runs away and a few days later finds a house of people watching tv, which is broadcasting that there was a peaceful overthrow of the government and the Population Police are no longer in control. Um . . . I spent six books following Luke and his friends and watching them infiltrate the enemy and scheme and plan, just for the ultimate overthrow of the government to have nothing to do with them? Excuse me for sounding a little cliche but I kind of expected Luke to have a bigger part to play in the end. 

The way this book ended kind of made all the previous books feel pointless. Like what was the point of watching Trey and Nina and Matthias do their own sneaky things, and what was the point of Luke helping Smits and do anything that he did, if it ultimately didn’t matter in the end? Haddix does try to make it sound like every detail matters, that every small act of rebellion played part in the takedown of the Population Police, but it didn’t really feel like that in the moment. Maybe it’s because this is a middle-grade story that we didn’t get more detail, but I expected there to be more of a struggle overthrowing the government. It’s never peaceful and easy, it never goes according to plan, and this book painted a picture that was too idealistic to be believable. I thought the first six books did a good job setting up the dystopian setting and the story and leading into future books, but I wish Luke had had a bigger part in the end since this was ultimately his story, after all. 

I also wished we were able to see more of the rebellion across the country. This entire series takes place essentially in the same cluster of small towns. What was going on even one state over, or on the other side of the country? I know Luke might not be able to know that, but since we were getting POVs from other characters besides him, I would have liked to get a book from someone completely unrelated to show that the Population Police are the same everywhere and the resistance is strong everywhere as well. 

I also think more explanation was needed as to why the Population Police were not actually trying to grow more food, if not enough food is what caused this whole fiasco of population control to begin with. Luke sees tons of farms and gardens throughout this series that are abandoned or unattended and wonders why the Population Police would allow that to happen when the whole world needs food. As an adult reader who has read many dystopian novels, I understand that totalitarian governments like power and only care about staying in power, and they don’t care about actually feeding the people as long as they themselves are fed. But a middle-grade reader might not understand that, especially if this is their first dystopian, so I really feel like more explanation surrounding some of the mysteries of why things are the way they are should have been explained. There were a lot of corners cut and details I forgave because this series is middle-grade. I’m so used to adult books that reading a middle-grade is a bit jarring in this aspect because less detail is needed for events and plot twists to be believable, but I still think some added explanation would have been nice. 

I would have liked to learn more about the repercussions and outcomes following the overthrow of the government, like what’s actually going to happen now that everyone is free. Uncontrolled freedom is just anarchy, so someone has to be in charge still. Luke dreams about some possible futures for him and his friends, so it’s presumed that’s what will actually happen, but the story was still left rather open-ended. 

This entire book is about Luke, and I would have loved to see the other characters too. Each POV character intersected with Luke at the end of the other books, so it seemed to me like everyone was going to do something together in the final book as one force, but we don’t even see Nina, Trey, Mr. Talbot, Mr. Hendricks, or anyone else besides Luke in this book until the very last chapter after everything has been resolved. That was a little disappointing to me. 

Margaret Peterson Haddix is a very compelling storyteller. Even though I had a lot of problems with this book, I still enjoyed it, and I still flew through the story as there are cliffhangers at the end of every chapter to make you keep reading. 

Ultimately I enjoyed this series but I do think it would be better suited for younger children as they are the intended audience, although I read the first book when I was younger and I liked it better as an adult, so who knows. Margaret Peterson Haddix is still one of my favorite nostalgic authors and I hope one day to read every book she has written (and there are a lot!) because I have enjoyed so many of them and she always has unique alternate reality speculative concepts in her stories. 

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