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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother is a scarily realistic dystopian novel that probably everyone in North America should read.  (Maybe only a slight exaggeration there.)  The book is set in what could be current times.  There's no date mentioned, making it nearly timeless, and all the social customs and technology match up with what we have now.  That's what makes it scary:  what happens to Marcus (the main character) and his friends could happen to any of us tomorrow.

Marcus, aka w1n3t0n (pronounced "Winston" for you non-techies out there), is your average 17-year-old.  He loves hanging out with his friends, playing video games, participating in ARGs (augmented reality game) and LARPs (live action role-playing game), and doing the bare minimum in school.  His school in San Francisco is pretty heavily guarded; students have to go through metal detectors to get into school, then gait-recognition cameras follow their movements in the halls, and their school-issued laptops can be monitored remotely.  Marcus and his friends also have fun hacking the laptops to run their own programs (non-traceable) and using little Macgyver-like hacks to get past the gait-recognition cameras.

All of this sounds pretty harmless, right?  There are already metal detectors and cameras at lots of high schools across North America.  What's the big deal?  And why shouldn't a school be able to monitor their laptops?  Marcus' activities also sound pretty harmless.  He only hacks the computer to the extent necessary to run a little IM program to chat with his friends during class, and only tricks the gait-recognition cameras to cut class occasionally (and what high schooler hasn't cut class a couple times?).

The problem comes when San Francisco is hit by a terrorist attack, and a bridge is blown up, killing thousands of people.  Marcus and his friends had chosen the wrong day to cut class.  And unfortunately, they cut class in order to ARG, so they have lots of homemade tech on them when the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) shows up.  Next thing they know, they're rounded up, with their tech confiscated, and put into jail cells for nearly a week.  When they're released, their world is an entirely different place, run by the DHS.  There are even more cameras up now, all over town.  The internet itself is being monitored.  Citizens are being tracked by their FastPass (for going through tolls) and their FastTracs (passes for using public transportation) and even their library books (with implanted RFID tags).  Marcus fights back.

I know that was a lot of summation, but I had to set up the fright factor.  Can you imagine being a teen, with very little power or voice in society, seeing all of this happening and knowing how bad it is, and having so few avenues to fight it?  Marcus is, arguably, a tech genius.  He uses his smarts and not violence to fight to reclaim his city.  He teams up with others to spread a message of forgotten freedoms rather than inciting riots.

More than just a story of fighting terrorism and "the man," Little Brother is also a coming-of-age book.  Over the course of many months we see Marcus really grow and develop as a character.  He goes from an aimless teen to a strong young man.  Yes, he makes some mistakes, but more often than not he makes the right decision.  This is a YA protagonist that a teen could inspire to.  He's even a YA protagonist that adults can admire!  I know that I cheered for Marcus over and over while I read the book.  I know of at least two teens that I regularly see at the library that I'm going to try to sell this book to.

I give Little Brother a full five of five (enthusiastic) stars, and would totally recommend this to everyone!



Tynga is a 32 years old mom of two, from Montreal, working as a lab technician in an hospital specialized in heart disease. In her free time, she enjoys reading all things Paranormal and photography.

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2 People left their mark' :

  1. Adding! This sounds like a great read, and I'm about to see if my library has it. I need to read this one. Awesome review!!