Smits had nothing left of his brother. He was gone. And Luke had taken his name. How could anyone hear Smits sobbing and think he was merely a foolish, homesick kid? Luke knew what grief was like....What if Oscar suddenly understood, too? Smits's grief was dangerous. Smits's grief could kill Luke.
As a third child in a society that allows only two children per family, Luke Garner was in hiding for the first twelve years of his life. Then he was given the freedom of an identity card that had belonged to Lee Grant, a Baron (a member of the highest class of society), and was sent to boarding school as Lee. But now, just when things are finally starting to go right, Lee's little brother, Smits, arrives at school, and Luke finds himself caught in a web of lies that gets more complex with every passing day -- and possibly even lethal. Can Luke trust the grief-stricken Smits to keep Luke's secret? And can he trust Smits's menacing bodyguard, Oscar? Luke finds that living among the Barons puts him in the deadliest danger he has ever faced. As she did in Among the Hidden and the other Shadow Children books, Margaret Peterson Haddix depicts one individual trying to make sense of a world in which nothing is what it seems.
Such a summons would have terrified Luke Garner only a few months earlier. When he'd first come to Hendricks School for Boys, the thought of having to talk to any grown-up, let alone the headmaster, would have turned him into a stammering, quaking fool desperately longing for a place to hide.
But that was back in April, and this was August. A lot had happened between April and August.
Now Luke just waved off the rising tide of "ooh's" from his friends in math class.
"What'd you do, L.? Have you been sneaking out to the woods again?" his friend John taunted him.
"Settle down, class," the teacher, Mr. Rees, said mildly. "You may be excused, Mr., uh, Mr...."
Luke didn't wait for Mr. Rees to try to remember his name. Names were slippery things at Hendricks School anyway. Luke, like all his friends, was registered under a different name from what he had grown up with. So it was always hard to know what to call people.
Luke edged his way past his classmates' desks and slipped out the door. His friend Trey, who had delivered the message from Mr. Hendricks, was waiting for him.
"What's this about?" Luke asked as the two fell into step together, walking down the hall.
"I don't know. I just do what he tells me," Trey said with a dispirited shrug.
Sometimes Luke wanted to take Trey by the shoulders, shake him, and yell, "Think for yourself! Open your eyes! Live a little!" Twelve years of hiding in a tiny room had turned Trey into a human turtle, always ready to pull back into his shell at the slightest hint of danger.
But Mr. Hendricks had taken a liking to Trey and was working with him privately. That was why Trey was running errands for him today.
Trey looked furtively over at Luke. His dark hair hung down into his eyes. "Do you suppose it's -- you know -- time?"
Luke didn't have to ask what Trey meant. Sometimes it seemed like everyone at Hendricks School was just holding his breath, waiting. Waiting for a day when none of the boys would be illegal anymore, when they could all reclaim their rightful names, when they could go back to their rightful families without fear that the Population Police would catch them. But both Luke and Trey knew that that day wouldn't come easily. And Luke, at least, had promised to do everything he could to bring it about.
His stomach churned. The fear he thought he'd outgrown reached him at last.
"Did he say...did Mr. Hendricks say...," he stammered. What if Mr. Hendricks had a plan for Luke to help with? What if that plan required more courage than Luke had?
Trey went back to looking down at the polished tile floor.
"Mr. Hendricks didn't say anything except, 'Go get your buddy L. out of math class and tell him to come see me,'" Trey said.
"Oh," Luke said.
They reached the end of the hall, and Luke pushed open the heavy wood door to the outside. Trey winced, as he always did anytime he was exposed to sunshine, fresh air, or anything else outdoors. But Luke breathed in gratefully. Luke had spent his first twelve years on his family's farm; some of his fondest memories involved the feeling of warm dirt on his bare feet, sunshine on the back of his neck, a hoe in his hand -- and his parents and brothers around him.
But it didn't do to think much about his parents and brothers anymore. When he'd accepted his fake identity, he'd had to leave them and the farm behind. And even when he'd been with them, he'd had to live like a shadow or a ghost, something no one else outside the family knew about.
Once when his middle brother, Mark, was in first grade, he'd accidentally slipped and mentioned Luke's name at school.
"I had to tell the teacher that Mark just had an imaginary friend named Luke," Luke's mother had told him. "But I worried about that for months afterward. I was so scared the teacher would report you, and the Population Police would come and take you away. I'm just glad that a lot of little kids do have imaginary friends."
She'd bitten her lip telling Luke that story. Luke could still see the strained expression on her face. She hadn't even told him about that episode until the day before he left the farm and his family for good. By then she'd meant the story as assurance, he knew -- assurance that he was doing the right thing by leaving.
At the time, Luke hadn't known what to make of that story. It just added to the jumble of confused thoughts and fears in his head. But now -- now that story made him angry. It wasn't fair that he'd had to be invisible. It wasn't fair that his brother couldn't talk about him. It wasn't fair that the Government had made him illegal simply because he was a third child and the Government thought families should have no more than two.
Luke stepped out into the sunshine feeling strangely happy to be so angry. It felt good to be so sure about what he thought, so totally convinced that he was right and the Government was wrong. And if Mr. Hendricks really did have a plan for Luke, it'd be good to hang on to this righteous anger.
The two boys climbed down an imposing number of marble steps. Luke noticed that Trey glanced back longingly at the school more than once. Not Luke. Hendricks had no windows -- to accommodate the fears of kids like Trey -- and Luke always felt slightly caged anytime he was inside.
They walked on down the lane to a house half hidden in bushes. Mr. Hendricks was waiting for them at the door.
"Come on in," he said heartily to Luke. "Trey, you can go on back to school and see about learning something for once." That was a joke -- Trey had done nothing but read while he'd been in hiding, so he knew as much about some subjects as the teachers did.
Luke opened the door, and Mr. Hendricks rolled back in his wheelchair to give Luke room to pass. When he'd first met Mr. Hendricks, Luke had been awkward around him, particularly because of the wheelchair. But now Luke practically forgot that Mr. Hendricks's lower legs were missing. Going into the living room, Luke automatically stepped out of the way of Mr. Hendricks's wheels.
"The other boys will find this out soon enough," Mr. Hendricks said. "But I wanted to tell you first, to give you time to adjust."
"Adjust to what?" Luke asked, sitting down on a couch.
"Having your brother here at school with you."
"My brother?" Luke repeated. "You mean Matthew or Mark..." He tried to picture either of his rough, wild older brothers in their faded jeans and flannel shirts walking up the marble stairs at Hendricks. If he felt caged at the windowless school, his brothers would feel handcuffed, pinned down, thoroughly imprisoned. And how could Mother and Dad possibly afford to send them here? Why would they want to?
"No, Lee," Mr. Hendricks said, stressing the fake name that Luke had adopted when he'd come out of hiding. Luke knew that he should be grateful that the parents of a boy named Lee Grant had donated his name and identity after the real Lee died in a skiing accident. The Grants were Barons -- really rich people -- so Luke's new identity was an impressive one indeed. But Luke didn't like to be called Lee, didn't like even to be reminded that he was supposed to be somebody else.
Mr. Hendricks was peering straight at Luke, waiting for Luke to catch on.
"I said your brother," Mr. Hendricks repeated. "Smithfield William Grant. You call him Smits. And he's coming here tomorrow."
Sometimes in this world it's hard to know who is telling the truth, who isn't, and what can be done about all the things that are wrong. The government claims that there isn't enough food for everyone in the world, and so they have made it illegal for any family to have more than two children. Yet hundreds of these illegal shadow children exist, and they want desperately to find a place for themselves in society. But these are children who have been forced to hide their entire lives, and who are only allowed to venture out with fake IDs in their hands and fear in their hearts. How can they sort through the conflicting information about shadow children and find out where they belong? And will they be able to find the courage to defy the government and stop hiding?
What are some of the ways in which having more than two children would be a burden in this society? Why do some families decide to have illegal shadow children in spite of this added strain? Do you think that the benefits of having another child outweigh the sacrifices that must be made?
Luke often feels hurt by the way his father treats him, especially when he is making his decision to leave the family farm. Do you think Mr. Garner means to be cruel? Jen's father, Mr. Talbot, can also seem cruel to the casual observer. Is this image justified? How are their reactions to the children different from the reactions of their wives?
How does the government enforce its rules and regulations? Do you think their plan for dealing with the waning food supply is a good one? Do you think it is justified?
Nina is reluctant to take on her false identity because she fears she will lose her past and cease to be the same person. Are her fears warranted? How do other shadow children feel about their identities, both old and new?
When shadow children stop hiding, they often have difficulty adjusting to their newly expanded world. In what ways would this be a hard adjustment to make? How do the different children react to their new freedoms? What has been done to help make it easier for the children?
Luke is a devoted friend to Jen even after her death. Why does he feel such loyalty toward her? Do you think his concept of friendshipæas well as his devotion to Jenæwould have been different if he hadn't been in hiding all his life? How are Nina's concepts of friendship and love affected by the fact that she is a shadow child?
Discuss how each character chooses to fight for the freedom of shadow children. How effective was Jen's rally? Is Mr. Talbot in a better position than the children to fight for change? How do Luke's actions fit into the movement?
Many of the characters find they have the potential to lead others. What are the different ways they assume leadership roles? Whose leadership is the most effective? Why?
The world's population grows larger every day. Write a report on population: how it has changed over the years, how it affects our society, and ways of dealing with it.
How do we deal with hunger and famine in our modern world? Research the policies that different countries have for dealing with hunger both at home and abroad. Stage a debate, with each person advocating a different approach, and see if you can reach a consensus about which methods are the most effective.
Luke's family lives on a farm, and he is very interested in gardening and hydroponics, the growing of plants in a nutrient-rich water rather than soil. Learn more about these disciplines by trying to grow some vegetables of your own. Perhaps you can plant a small garden, or try your hand at hydroponics.
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com.