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Review: Hidden December 8, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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I have mixed feelings about middle grade and YA novels that are written in verse. Sometimes it seems powerful and entirely right for the story (Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse). Sometimes it feels slightly gimmicky, if ultimately heartwarming (Love that Dog by Sharon Creech). Last year, one of the more unusual YA books I read was Crossing Stones by Helen Frost. A historical novel set during World War I, the chapters were written in concrete poems in the shape of stones and water, representing the stones across a creek that ran between the homes of two families. As I recall, I enjoyed the book and main character was interesting, but I wasn’t compelled to re-read it.

But now.

Frost has a new book out this year, which I have read about five times so far and still I am finding new details in its pages. Also written in verse, Hidden tells the story of two girls, Wren and Darra, who are linked in a horrifying incident when they are little. Darra’s father steals a car, without knowing that Wren is hiding in the backseat. For several days, Wren is trapped in Darra’s garage, trying to find a way out, while no one (or perhaps only one person) knows where she is. The first two parts of the book tell that story from each character’s point of view. The third part of the book takes place years later, (when the girls are older and meet by accident) and tells the story of how they come to terms with the past.

Both voices in the story are written in free verse (that is, no rhymes). However, Wren’s sections are written in true free verse, while Darra’s, as the author explains in an afterword, are an invented form, with messages hidden in the lines. The result is also that Wren’s voice sounds much more spare and tense, and this makes sense, considering the ordeal she goes through. Darra’s voice is more specific and includes a lot more details and her reactions to events and people, which also makes sense when you take into account her family history and how her family changed after the incident involving Wren. Supporting characters are well drawn, and even those who seem thoughtless and cruel are shown, through Frost’s ingenious hidden messages, to be more complicated than they seem at first read.

Yes, the coincidence of the girls turning up at the same summer camp requires a certain suspension of disbelief (this may be a theme of this year’s books–I’m looking at YOU, Okay for Now!) but I was definitely pulled in by the characters and the set-up of the story and so was willing to go along with it. This is a mystery, a survival story and a friendship story that will intrigue many readers.

Hidden by Helen Frost. Published April 2011 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

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