Book Review and Author Interview with Margaret Peterson Haddix

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Titles: Books 1 and 2 in Children of Exile Series


Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016 & 2017

Ages: 9 -12

Themes: siblings, friends, aliens, adventure, saving humanity

Genre: dystopian


Children of Exile (Children of Exile #1)


For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.

And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?

Children of Refuge (Children of Exile #2)


After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!

Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in the Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late.

Opening of Book 2:

The Man lunged out of the darkness to grab me as I ran by.

“Let go!” I screamed, struggling to break away. “Let! Me! Go!”

I was already being chased by a pack of angry men. It didn’t seem fair that someone I hadn’t even seen was after me too.

Of course, my friend Rose had told me once that I had a talent for making people mad.


She’d been running from angry men too. Had she at least managed to get away safely?

Why I like this series:

This is an edge-of-seat-gripping dystopian series for middle grade readers. Book 1 is written from Rosi’s POV and Book 2 from Edwy’s, and I love this choice. Separated at the end of book 1, by the end of Book 2, the two 12 year-olds are reunited.

While, this clearly doesn’t target a YA audience, I appreciate how Haddix doesn’t shy away from challenging vocabulary and big questions, which she knows her readers are mature enough to tackle. No dumbing down here, and I love it. The series focuses on the bleak future of the human race (ever timely!) Poverty, corruption, moral degradation, physical destruction, war, greed are widespread through earth’s cities. Alien species deem themselves more ethical than the degraded humans, and take control.

Because of the age of the protagonists all we see is filtered through young and innocent eyes, due to their being raised until now by the pacifist Freds. Haddix depicts the emotional and raw evolution of Rosi and Edwy as they are exposed to this new world of hate and violence. Their reflections are poignant and deep. While Rosi is the more ostensibly “likeable” character, I love Edwy’s personality… He is reactive but oh so perceptive. And I especially enjoyed his desrcriptions of and thoughts about Rosi in book 2 when they are separated… Haddix develops both worlds and characters that are rich in details and palpable with emotions.
This is both a story of intense action and lively plot twist, as well as perceptive interior reflection, the latter more so than many middle grade, made possible, of course, by the first person narratives. I think this combination will give it very wide appeal, even to those children who do not normally gravitate toward science fiction. More questions are raised than answered, which I think is healthy for kids to read about. Both books are gripping page-turners, and I would suggest them being read in order as a series rather than stand-alones. I am very much looking forward to book 3 in the series, and have already lent my first two books to one of my middle graders in the school library.

Brief Interview with the Author:

[JM] What was your catalyst/inspiration for this series?

[MH] I got the first germ of the idea for the CHILDREN OF EXILE series when I was reading a book about genocide while I was at a Disney hotel in Orlando. (I have a feeling I’m the only person in the history of Disney World who ever did that. Or maybe not.) The contrast was so jarring between the shiny, happy “Everything’s Magical!” Disney environment and the horrors of what real people had done in the real world, within my lifetime. One of my majors in college was history, and I’m a firm believer in the notion that we have to remember the past—and learn about it in an accurate way–in order to avoid repeating its mistakes.  And yet, in that moment, I kind of wanted to throw myself in front of the starry-eyed little kids around me and scream, “Don’t ever let them know how horrible humans can be!” I started thinking, “What if someone did try to protect kids from knowledge of the past in such a dramatic way? How would that work?”

Of course we do try to protect very young children from all sorts of knowledge about the world. We have debates about what’s “age appropriate” and what books kids should or should not be exposed to at what ages. I just wanted to think about what would happen if someone carried that to the extreme.

[JM] What draws you to speculative fiction?

[MH] It’s so much fun!

I know I just mentioned that writing this series required me to think about genocide and other horrors of history, so bringing up the word, “fun” now probably sounds very twisted. It is true that some of the concepts I end up dwelling on are quite grim. But I am also fascinated by human nature and human society… and the good that humans are capable of, along with the evil. Speculative fiction gives me (and hopefully, my readers as well) the chance to think more about not just the fictional world I imagine, but also the world we live in and how it could or should be different.

So I think speculative fiction is both fun and important.

[JM] Will we see alternating POV for #3 or…?

[MH] I could do a total tease and say, “We’ll see!” But… CHILDREN OF JUBILEE doesn’t come out until next November, so that seems cruel.

My original intent was actually to do an alternating POV in JUBILEE between Rosi and Edwy. But as I reached the end of REFUGE, I began re-thinking that approach. I felt like there was another perspective that I needed to explore instead: that of kids who hadn’t been taken to a Fredtown—who, from one viewpoint, could see themselves as not being worth saving. I thought that perspective was more valuable for the events that would be happening in the last book.

So CHILDREN OF JUBILEE is from the perspective of Edwy’s sister Kiandra.

[JM] I love that this MG series tackles deep ethical/philosophical questions and knows this age group can grapple with these issues. Can you share any reader feedback to Children of Exile that has particularly encouraged you about this young generation?

[MH] Some of the feedback gives away too much about specific plot points. But when I was on book tour for CHILDREN OF EXILE last year, I did an exercise with kids practically all across the country (from Ohio to Idaho) that produced some truly poignant answers. I told kids that one of the pleasures of writing CHILDREN OF EXILE had been thinking a lot about how someone might design a place intended to be perfect for raising kids. So at each school I stopped at, I asked kids to tell me how they would design the perfect place for kids. Many of the answers, not so surprisingly, involved candy, amusement parks, and laws against homework. But other answers were deeply thoughtful and made me wonder (and sometimes worry) about what those kids’ lives were like on a daily basis. A girl in Boise told me that in her perfectly imagined world, kids would be “able to explore everywhere, and it would always be safe.” But the answer that blew me away the most came from a girl in St. Louis, whose face held such hope as she described a world where everyone had enough food and clean drinking water, there wasn’t any poverty, and “everybody is accepted for who they are, no matter what.” This was during the presidential campaign, and I told her she had my vote.

[JM] What is the appeal of writing a series as opposed to a stand-alone book, and are you always intentional about this when you set out, planning the series as well as the book plot arc?

[MH] A series gives more opportunity to explore different angles and tangents related to an idea, as well as the different perspective of characters who might be living in similar circumstances but have entirely different viewpoints (as is the case initially with Rosi and Edwy).

[JM] Bonus Question I ask All My Guests: Cats or Dogs?

[MH] I grew up on a farm, so I spent my childhood around not just cats and dogs, but hogs, cattle, chickens, and ponies. I only have a cat now, but Comet has a big personality, and he considers it his duty to sit in my lap while I’m working and keep me both seated and writing!


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3 Responses to Book Review and Author Interview with Margaret Peterson Haddix

  1. Okay, you sold me. First, I like Margaret Peterson Haddix and can’t believe I wasn’t aware of the series. I like the seed thought and question that launched this series. It reminds me a bit of The Giver, where the community is protected from the past. And, I like that it is timely and really challenges readers to think. And I enjoyed reading about her journey of visiting schools across the country asking kids “how they would design a perfect place for kids.” Some of the answers she shared show how kids really care about our world. Excellent review and interview. Look forward to reading this series.

  2. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Pat. This is a smart, really well-paced new series, which I am sure you will love. Glad you enjoyed the interview too.

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