Author: Helen Frost
Publisher: Frances Foster Books
Publication Date: 2011
Lexile Level: 670
*South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee 2013-2014
*2012 ALA Notable Book
*VOYA’s “Perfect 10” List
*Kirkus Review’s Best Children’s Books of 2011
To start—the awards listed are just a handful of the ones achieved by this book. I listed some of the most notable ones—and the South Carolina nominee, because that’s where I’m based, so it’s a list I follow pretty close. Anywho, Hidden is a story told through lyrical poetry, alternating between the viewpoints of the two main characters, Darra and Wren.
We start when the girls are eight years old. Wren is in her mother’s van when it is stolen by Darra’s father. As she’s hiding in the back, he doesn’t realize she’s there when he stashes the van in his garage. Darra finds that Wren is hiding, and tries to help her, while coming up with a plan that won’t get her father caught. Wren escapes on her own, and Darra’s father is arrested.
Cut to six years later, and the girls meet each other at summer camp. There are complex feelings between them—Darra blames Wren for her father’s incarceration, and Wren finds that she has unresolved anxiety as a result of her kidnapping. Added to this is the difference in their social standing. The camp is more for rich kids, and Darra is only there thanks to an inheritance from her grandmother. She is instantly shunned by most of the other kids for her lower economic standing. On a side note—okay, I get that the grandmother wanted Darra to experience a few weeks at the camp of her childhood, but given how much money this camp seems to cost…surely Darra’s mother could have put the money to better use? Like, fixing their car? Putting it up for other emergencies? Clothes for the coming school year? The only thing I can think of is that since it was in the grandmother’s will that Darra get four weeks at the camp, maybe there wasn’t a choice in the matter.
We switch between Darra and Wren, as they contemplate their feelings and slowly form a friendship. Darra’s sections are told in long form, with Wren’s in a more traditional poetry format. Eventually the girls come to terms with what happened to them, and learn an even more important lesson: that none of what happened was their fault.
Darra’s sections, especially her feelings about her father, struck a pretty powerful cord with me. See…my dad is in prison. I wasn’t a child when it happened, but some feelings are universal. Darra’s mixed emotions, in visiting him and how she can love him even when he wasn’t always a good man…it all rings true. In fact, parts of her story feel so authentic that I have to wonder if Frost has personal experience with this sort of thing. I was glad that at no point is Darra demonized for her affections. Frost does an excellent job at showing that this is a complicated issue, on both ends. Wren had a hard time seeing an abusive man as a dad that his daughter loved, while Darra loved him simply because he was her father.
My father was never physically abusive, so I can’t speak to that. But I can say that having a father in jail for doing a horrible thing, and still having a relationship with him, is complicated. It strains relationships with other family members, it shakes up your view of the past, and you realize that society gives absolutely zero shits about you as a victim. At any rate, I get a lot of where Darra is coming from.
This book is great in a lot of ways. It’s a great introduction for teens to lyrical poetry, especially for units where teens will be writing their own poetry. It is also a good example at how you can play with form—a note at the end of the book revels there is a second part of Darra’s story hidden in her sections. By reading the last word of certain lines, the reader gets additional insight into her story. It’s not essential information, but it is a nice tough.
It’s also a quick read, making it easy to consume for a school assignment. I would recommend this for any teen interested in the form, or for those with incarcerated parents. It’s also good for those dealing with traumatic events in their lives. It may not circulate well without a little marketing, but I would say it’s a good addition to any YA collection.