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15 May 2011 HIDDEN by Helen Frost, Frances Foster Books/FSG, May 2011, 160p., ISBN: 978-0-374-38221-6




What do you do when all of a sudden your dad is gone and the

rest of your life is nothing

like it was before.  We had plans

to go back to the lake -- we'd be going back every summer!

Dad and Mom had already saved up almost

all the vacation and money they needed.

And then, whoosh! First Dad lost his job, and 'started a business' -- I

pictured him fixing cars for people,

with his business partner, named Stu.

(Like beef stew? I thought when I heard that.)  But it turns out Stu was

already on a Most Wanted list

before he even met my dad, and they

weren't fixing cars, they were stealing them.  They stole seven

cars -- I remember every one of them.  They'd

bring them into our garage and paint them.

Mom and Dad started fighting a lot.  Mom hated Stu.  She said Dad

should stay home and take care of me while she

went to work.  Dad was okay most of the time -- I

thought it would be fun, and it was, at first.  Then one time he took

me with him to 'pick up a car at Stu's place,'

and I caught on.  It didn't take long to figure out

that Mom knew what Dad was doing, and neither of them wanted me

to tell.  I never said a word about it.  When I saw

the first part of the TV news about Wren Abbott,

I wondered: Did the store-robber who took the car ever go out fishing

with his kid?  I knew it couldn't be Dad because he

would never rob a store.  Then they showed a picture

of a man who got shot by the store clerk.  It was Stu, right there on

our TV.  He was dead.  I thought fast.  Maybe

no one besides Mom and me knew that Dad was

Stu's partner -- which meant Dad might not get caught.  There was a

chance.  If Wren Abbott hadn't led the cops

to our house that morning, Dad would probably

still be home with us.  My family would have gone back to the lake

that summer, and all five summers since.

We might be heading up there right now."


As we read a story, we either look into a mirror at ourselves or we look through a window at another side, another perspective.  HIDDEN by Helen Frost compels us to do a bit of each.


HIDDEN is the story, written in poetic form, of Darra Monson, the girl whose father was sent to jail when she was eight years old.  When the store robbery went so horribly wrong, her father -- who had no gun -- raced out, jumped into a minivan in the parking lot in which someone had left the keys, sped home, and hid the stolen minivan in the garage.  What Darra's father didn't know was that a girl -- the same age as his daughter -- had been sitting in that minivan while her mother ran into the store, but had jumped into the back and ducked under a blanket when she heard the gunfire erupt.


Darra takes several dangerous steps to help the girl whose picture is on the television news and who, Darra comes to realize, is hiding in her garage.  These are pivotal steps that could no doubt get Darra beaten if she is caught deceiving her father.  These are pivotal steps that buy the accidentally-abducted girl time to figure a way to escape from the garage -- which she eventually does -- without being detected by Darra's parents.  And what does Darra get out of the deal?  Her father and those blissful times with the boat, vacationing on the lake, are locked away from her for the rest of her childhood.


Author Helen Frost cleverly begins Darra's story by having an entire first section written from the point of view of young victim Wren Abbott, who conveys her account of the robbery gone wrong, the accidental abduction, the terror in the garage, and the eventual escape.  This tense depiction permits our seeing how little Wren learns of Darra and her world. 


The moment Wren escapes the garage, she disappears from the story for the next six years until the two girls -- now fourteen -- find themselves both randomly bunked in the same summer camp cabin.  In powerful, alternating poetic pieces, we see the results of this volatile mixture and the past history which both girls must keep secret from their fellow campers.


I've engaged in several lively discussions about the cover of HIDDEN featuring the two fourteen year-old girls, one light-skinned and one dark.  We are nearly through the book before we learn anything about the physical appearances of either girl.  Except for the difference in skin and hair colors, the two girls depicted on the cover are essentially interchangeable.  I find this brilliant because, with it being so random who you end up with as your parents, the two girls could have so easily ended up on the reverse ends of the equation. 


A mirror or a window.  Whoosh!  It can so easily be us looking from the other side. 


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EcolIt/ http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php


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