Book Review: The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I decided to read the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix because of a high schooler with whom I work. He said it was a great premise, they were well written, and he still enjoyed them, even though he was beyond the target age. Really, they’re books for pre-teens. He said he’d loan them to me, so I took him up on the offer. I figured I could blow through all seven of them in about a week. I was also able to find it on Goodreads as a box-set, so it wouldn’t even distort my Reading Challenge goal. Little did I realize, this would send me on a brief stint of reading several children’s series in a row.

I wound up blowing through all seven books in four days. In one day off work, I finished half of one, started then finished another one, then got through most of a third one. So, yeah. They’re quick reads. But, they were also very well executed.

Mostly, the books follow Luke, the third child of his family, in a country where people are only allowed to have two children. He has hidden his whole life, but he can't hide any longer.

Luke gets a fake ID and becomes Lee, then we lose him for a while as we follow other third children through their tumultuous journeys in a suddenly changing world. We catch up with Luke a few times through the eyes of the others, but then we get to be in his mind again for the final book.

I won't spoil anything, so I'll keep this pretty general.

This series was well written. I appreciated that in the very first book, the author used large words, which Luke had to look up in the dictionary. What a great way to gently suggest to young readers to look up words themselves! The author continued to use large words throughout the rest of the books. This really made me enjoy them even more since I read modern fiction for adults that doesn't even have so many large words. I think it's very important to draw in readers when they're still young, but also to not be pandering. I feel that young readers should be exposed to a larger vocabulary in their books, otherwise they're never going to expand their own vocab. They might learn new spelling words in school, but reading a greater variety of words in books helps give them context and understanding of the subtleties of different words that have similar meanings. These books are a fantastic way for an older child to expand their grasp of perspective as well as the English language.

I could appreciate that the books were dystopian and people actually died in this terrifying world. I don't think children's books should be all roses and rainbows. These books showed the terror of living in that horrible place from a child's eyes and it felt real. I can only imagine what I would've felt as a twelve year old reading these. I'm sure I would have read them over and over again had they existed when I was a youngster.

The only thing I can pick out that I didn't like about the books was the extreme level of coincidence. We're expected to believe that children who have never been outside, never been to cities, and have certainly never read a map, can just waltz outside and run randomly through the forest all day until they just happen to end up exactly where they were wanting to go? Places that take hours to drive to can just be reached on foot after a day of blindly running through the forest? So the few times this happened in the series, I was like--meh... But, again, these are children's books, so I forgave the errors like that which a child would be highly unlikely to notice or consider. I also forgave it because I could not think of a way to fix it. It's not feasible to have them happen across a clearly marked map, showing both where they are starting as well as where they are going. I feel like finding a map would have been even more ridiculous than what did happen on the occasions where cross-country travel over field and forest was required. At least once or twice, they were actually following the sun, but still... It was a massive suspension of disbelief for me to accept that the half-dozen times one or more of the third children are trying to reach this school, or this house, they make it there with little to no idea where they are headed. But, I suppose that's what fiction is all about, right? Suspending reality and creating convenient coincidences that make everything fit together exactly how it needs to be. 

In conclusion, I think that these are great books. They were written for kids/tweens and are told exclusively from the perspective of twelve-year-olds, but that doesn't mean everyone can't enjoy them. I certainly enjoyed them. Even though I borrowed these and have now returned them, I feel like someday I'd like to buy them and read them again.