Grade 5–8. This fifth book about third-born children who must go into hiding to avoid elimination picks up where Among the Barons (S & S, 2003) ended. The ruthless head of the Population Police has taken over the government, and executions are common. Trey has gone to Mr. Talbot’s home seeking help to rescue Luke and his other third-born friends just as the man is taken away in handcuffs. Desperate, he teams up with Luke’s older, more reckless brother, Mark, to try to find the others. Mark is caught and Trey enlists in the Population Police, his only hope of freeing him. To escape, the boys make a deal with a resistance member disguised as a guard to rescue a prisoner from another torture camp. The prisoner turns out to be none other than Mr. Talbot, who headed the resistance movement. Mark and Trey are able to rescue their friends, but are unable to help the guard who helped them. The adults are ready to give up but the third-born children vow to keep up the fight. Even though elements of the plot seem timeworn and not all of it is plausible, this book provides a fast and wild ride that will appeal to reluctant readers. Once again, Haddix makes real how hard ordinary and not-so-ordinary actions would be for kids who’ve spent most of their lives hidden away. Although this installment could be read on its own, this series works best when read in sequence.
Gr. 4–7. Like its predecessors in the Shadow Children series, this novel concerns children hidden from society because their families have exceeded the strictly enforced, two-child limit. Trey struggles to survive during a dangerous political shift, as the most repressive faction of the government seizes power. On a personal level, Trey feels intense fear and increasing mistrust as he tries to maneuver in a world where he often cannot tell friend from foe. Haddix writes a compelling story, full of intrigue, danger, and adventure. The level of tension barely lets up, ensuring that “can’t-put-it-down” headlong impulse to keep reading. Still, the constant tension gives individual scenes less impact than they might have had in a book with more contrast. Trey makes an interesting, sympathetic protagonist, reflective about his past, convincing in his outlook, and fundamentally alone even among his allies. Carolyn Phelan