I picked up this book because I’ll be at the NCTE Secondary Luncheon on Saturday morning, and I hadn’t read any books by Cory Doctorow yet. So, I popped down to my trusty library, picked up Little Brother, and just could not put it down until I’d finished. This is a modern take on 1984. Marcus and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when a terrorist attack happens in San Francisco. He and his friends are picked up by the police for questioning, and held unlawfully, tortured, and then let go–into a whole new world.
The city after the attack ends up in a paranoid police state. The school has cameras, Marcus’s social studies teacher is fired for talking about civil liberties, and his friends and parents question his questioning of the new normal. I was really moved by this book, especially because for me it brought up strong memories of teaching outside of Washington, DC right after 9/11. The way Doctorow portrays the fear, paranoia, and blind allegiance to the government resonated with me. I found myself really identifying with Marcus as he struggles to make everyone around him understand the importance of free speech–and freedom.
Marcus, a computer whiz, a smart kid, and a savvy people reader, works with his group of friends to subvert the new regime’s tactics. The storyline moves along at a quick pace, and even when Doctorow pauses to explain the mathematics of cryptography, or the concept of tunneling on the internet, or the probability of catching a terrorist by random checks, the pace remains. I did not find one place in the book where it dragged or where my interest waned. There’s action, adventure, romance, and even history. Doctorow managed to incorporate mini history lessons about San Francisco, Allen Ginsberg, and the civil liberties movement in a way that did not seem at all pedantic. Additionally, he subtly includes comments on white privilege a few times, like when Marcus notices he’s the only white guy being interrogated, or when his friend Jolu outright tells him it is harder to fight the system if you’re brown or black.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a fast-paced story with subtle societal commentary. I wouldn’t call this a dystopia per se–it is too close to today’s reality. I am thrilled now that I will be able to hear Doctorow speak on Saturday, and I am surely going to recommend this book to all my friends, especially those who teach 1984.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary.