Monday, November 8, 2010

The Missing

The Missing is Margaret Peterson Haddix's newest series and I have to say, it's a original idea. In fact, as I was reading volume one, Found, I couldn't predict what was actually going on. When the twist was revealed, I was intrigued.

Jonah was adopted as a baby. He's always known he was adopted and he is not much bothered by this fact. His parents obviously love him and Haddix pokes gentle fun at them for their perhaps overly-earnest desire to be sensitive to Jonah's adoption "issues," should he ever begin to have any. However, things begin to happen that lead Jonah to wonder just what the circumstances surrounding his adoption were. He meets Chip, a new kid in his neighborhood, and then he gets a bizarre letter. It's a simple piece of white paper that says "You are one of the missing."

Jonah dismisses it as a prank, but when Chip gets the same letter, the boys begin to wonder what it means. Jonah thinks it might have something to do with his adoption, but Chip isn't adopted -- is he? Turns out he is, and his parents have kept that fact from him his entire life. Then the boys get another letter: "Beware. They're coming back to get you."

With Jonah's younger sister Katherine, they begin to investigate where they might have come from and discover they're part of a group of 36 kids who were all adopted and who now, mysteriously, have migrated from all over the country to the community where Jonah and Chip live.

I'm going to give some spoilers here, so if you don't want to know the twist on which this whole series rests, stop reading now and go check out Found from your local library.

What is it all about? In a word, time travel. I know -- you didn't see that coming, did you? Me neither. Turns out Jonah and Chip and the other kids were kidnapped out of time in a cosmic baby-smuggling ring. And they were kidnapped because they were important personages in history -- the Princes in the Tower, Virginia Dare, Anastasia Romanoff, Chinese princesses, philosophers...people who would have died too soon but instead were "rescued" to be adopted by prestige-seeking parents in the distant future. In a bungled baby-snatch, the 36 kids were accidentally crash landed in the late 20th century -- a plane-load of babies, mysteriously appearing on a small regional runway.

Unfortunately, their kidnappings have wounded Time and while one faction of time travellers is trying to snatch them back so they can be adopted in the future, another faction is equally determined to return them to their proper times so they can die as they were meant to do. Neither option is very appealing to the kids. If they go forward, they'll be regressed to babies and have to grow up all over again. If they go back, well...they die.

Eventually, the faction trying to restore Time to its proper path wins and Chip is sent back to 15th century England with another boy, Alex, to fulfill their destiny as the Princes in the Tower. But Jonah and Katherine manage to hitch a ride with Chip and are also catapulted back to the 1400s. They are reluctantly given the chance to "put things right" in a way that heals Time and spares their friends. And that is the subject of the second book, Sent.

Haddix has laid the groundwork for a very ambitious series here -- at lot of books, if she truly plans to cover each child on the plane (one child doesn't show up for the big adoption reunion and Jonah's sister, Katherine, who is not adopted, takes her place; Alex and Chip are handled in one book, but still, there are a lot of kids to cover). That ought to be enough to keep her busy for a while. The books are well written and do a nice job of combining the time-travel elements with actual history. These are books that do a lot to illuminate events and people from the past, so they get my vote just for that.

I don't know what adopted kids will make of this series. Certainly there's a kind of wish fulfillment here, finding out that your birth parents were royalty or famous or whatever -- like everyone wanting to believe they were Napoleon or Lady Godiva or Cleopatra in a former life instead of Joe the Pig Farmer. It might pass completely below the radar for adopted kids, or it might open some doors to talk about birth parents and what you actually know about them. Jonah and Chip present different adoption experiences, with Jonah's all very open and above-board and Chip's hidden as though it were completely immaterial, or even embarassing. Chip also feels "out of place," which is put down to his being literally "out of time," but his feelings may provoke a response in some adopted kids (and bio kids as well; feeling out of place can just be a teenage condition, too). I think parents of adopted kids should read this first so they know what kinds of ideas or questions or issues might be raised by the story.

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