When I first read Among the Betrayed, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, in elementary school, I didn’t know it was part of a series. I definitely didn’t know it was the third book in the series, or that it picked up at the moment Among the Impostors left off, from a different character’s point of view. I just saw it in the Scholastic catalog and thought it looked interesting. Sometimes I still wonder if I’d see the Shadow Children series differently if I’d started with Among the Hidden.
I definitely read book 3 differently. I assumed from the start that Nina was trustworthy and that Mr. Talbot wasn’t, whereas it might be the other way around for someone who read them in order. I wondered along with Nina whether Jen had ever existed, and I believed she was really in danger where someone who read the first two might have figured out she was being tested. Perhaps most importantly, I had to figure out the weird rules of the series’ dystopian world in a book written for kids who already knew.
It affected the way I read the first two books, as well. I knew not to trust Jason. I knew that Jen’s father was a double agent. I could guess from the start that Jen’s rally would fail. I was as surprised by Luke’s comparatively normal childhood as his friends at school would be later, because I had Nina’s as a reference point.
Did it change the way I read the rest of the series? I don’t know. That’s a harder “what if” question to consider. I went into the last four books having read all of the first three. I was always attached to Nina, even though she was a minor character outside of book 3, but then again I felt the same way about Trey, and I certainly didn’t start with his book. But did I read the books through the lens of her experiences instead of Luke’s? I’m really not sure, but I think I’ll always wonder.
One of my favorite authors as a kid was Margaret Peterson Haddix. I still have most of her novels on the bookshelf I reserve for childhood nostalgia books, and I’ve been re-reading some of them. This time around, I’ve been struck by something I could never have put into words when I was 10 or 12 years old: the books deal with real issues kids face through sci-fi and fantasy metaphors.
Let me explain. One of her books – Claim to Fame – is about a girl who can hear everything anyone says about her, no matter where they are. No real kid is going to have that experience, but kids do deal with gossip and peer pressure. They do worry about what their friends are saying behind their backs. Another book, Double Identity, is about a girl who is a clone of her older “sister”, who died in a car crash before she was born. Real children might feel that they are living in an older sibling’s shadow, and twins – the closest real-world equivalent to clones – certainly struggle to define themselves as individuals. Game Changer talks about school cliques, bullying, and popularity, but uses an alternate world where the nerds are popular and the jocks are outcasts to do so. Turnabout features two women who are aging backwards and are now teenagers. Aimed at an age group that may be dealing with losing grandparents or other older relatives, the book explores old age and death via characters the readers’ age in a way that would not be possible without the sci-fi element. And the Missing series is about time travel and historical mysteries, but it’s also about adopted kids who want to know where they come from – which happens to be different time periods instead of just different parents.
I think there’s a lot of value in this. Kids who read middle grade books are old enough to be dealing with serious issues, like identity, peer pressure, bullying, and even death, but not necessarily ready for books high schoolers or adults might read which address these issues directly. Tying it into the supernatural aspect of the story seems like a good way to let kids explore these issues without hitting too close to home. I know it certainly worked for me when I was younger.