Little Brother

Doctorow, Cory (2008). New York,:Tor. ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-1985-2

A very few digital evolutions ahead of now, when schools are policed by ‘gait recognition’ software, a group of San Francisco teens ditches class to play a roving GPS game. As they begin the game, the Bay Bridge is bombed by terrorists. One of the group, Darryl, is wounded in the ensuing mayhem. While seeking help for Darryl, the acute and technologically adept Marcus is rounded up by the Department of Homeland Security, imprisoned, and subjected to humiliation and psychological torture. In the fear-filled weeks after the bombing and his release, Marcus sees the range and power of the DHS begin to grow, and he gathers the technological and social resources available to him to fight a technological guerilla campaign for the principals of the US Constitution.

Reader’s Annotation
After the San Francisco Bay Bridge is bombed by terrorists, the Department of Homeland Security exploits the fear of residents to justify growing intrusions into the privacy and civil rights of Americans. Sharp teen techno-whiz Marcus, himself an early victim of DHS imprisonment, uses his gamer background to create a guerilla techno resistance, but there are digital spies everywhere—even within his own movement.

Little Brother is a stirring book—the emotions evoked by Marcus’ imprisonment, his first love, his relationship with his parents are compelling; the idealistic passion of the author in defense of Constitutional freedoms is inspiring. The complex plot usually moves at high speed, full of intriguing technological strategies and lurching from precarious situation to desperate escape. For a large group of techie reluctant boy readers, this book can be a game-changing recommendation, especially when combined with the information that the book can be downloaded for free in numerous formats. On the downside—even when it’s on the side of causes we support—propaganda is propaganda. The book presents a very simplified view of a complex problem—only the imperfectly drawn character of the father acknowledges any difficulty in balancing security and freedom, and when occasionally the entire plot comes to a standstill for Marcus to share some cut-and-paste information from the electronic Frontier Foundation, the sense that Marcus is a puppet and the strings are showing undermines the whole book’s emphasis on free thought. Still, the book is highly recommended for its exciting but thoughtful story, and especially for its wonderful emphasis on the potential positive power of teen intellect and creativity in preserving American freedoms.

About the author
Cory Doctorow, born in 1971, is a Canadian author, blogger, copyright activist, and Independent Studies Scholar in Virtual Residence at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Techno-science fiction/political dystopia

Curriculum Ties
Would make a great assignment for a Civics/Social Studies class, especially if combined with a non-fiction source and a reasoned defense of security.

Booktalking Ideas
How does Facebook interact with this books ideas about privacy?
How far should the government go to keep us safe?
Discuss the dad’s behavior

Reading Level/Interest Age
9th and up

Challenge Issues
Sex scenes, not graphic but intense; more controversial for its strong views on the Patriot Act and national security measures.

Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy; list Hugo finalist, John W Campbell and other awards; SLJ and Booklist reviews available at; gather teen responses.

Why Included?
Required for class; great YA read, especially for tech boys and political or potentially political kids of any persuasion

Selection Tools
Instructor Assignment--thanks!

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