Plot Summary: Little Brother provides a look at a brewing dystopia in the wake of a terrorist attack on California. Influenced by post-September 11th events like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay – Doctorow examines what happens when teens find themselves being hauled off for “questioning” and decide to fight back.
Seventeen-year-old Marcus and his friends are avid gamers who cut class one day to play an ARG (alternate reality game) in their San Francisco neighborhood. As they start their search for clues, an explosion rips apart the Golden Gate Bridge. Thousands are killed in the terrorist attack, Marcus’ friend Darryl is stabbed in the fracas, and the group is arrested and taken to an unknown location where they are separated and interrogated as suspected terrorists. Everyone but Darryl is released several days later, after signing documents that exonerate the United States government of any wrong doing; they are told not to speak about what happened, and that they will be watched. Furious, Marcus decides to fight back by creating the Xnet, an undetectable online service, rigged from his X-Box.
As the Department of Homeland Security turns the U.S. into a police state, Marcus and his friends become a new version of the Merry Prankters, sabotaging the DHS’ monitoring equipment. When he learns that Darryl is still being held in the secret prison that he and his friends were detained in, he turns to his parents and a journalist to help free him and bring down the DHS, even if it means putting himself at risk.
Critical Evaluation: Little Brother moves at a quicker pace than For the Win, but Doctorow’s tendency to preach/lecture still comes through at points. He gives in-depth information in his narrative on how different technology works, and how Marcus is able to hack various networks and cell phones. It’s part novel, part primer. The story does move along at a more enjoyable pace, and I liked the character development. Marcus comes across as a sympathetic character; a normal teen thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He decides to fight back against this invasion of his privacy by using what is available to him – his gift with technology. He does not come across as a superhero; he is conflicted and scared throughout the book, but knows he needs to take a stand. Whether readers agree or disagree with how he justifies his actions will provide good discussion.
Reviews: School Library Journal: “One afterword by a noted cryptologist and another from an infamous hacker further reflect Doctorow’s principles, and a bibliography has resources for teens interested in intellectual freedom, information access, and technology enhancements.”
Booklist: “Readers will delight in the details of how Marcus attempts to stage a techno-revolution … Buy multiple copies; this book will be h4wt (that’s ‘hot,’ for the nonhackers).”
Publishers Weekly: “Filled with sharp dialogue and detailed descriptions of how to counteract gait-recognition cameras, arphids (radio frequency ID tags), wireless Internet tracers and other surveillance devices, this work makes its admittedly didactic point within a tautly crafted fictional framework.”
Awards: Finalist, Hugo Award for Best Novel; New York Times bestseller; White Pine Award (2009); Prometheus Award (2009); John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2009).
Reader’s Annotation: Imprisoned for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus can’t believe what he sees happening to his country. He decides to fight back – but who can he really trust?
Author Information: Cory Doctorow is a passionate advocate for open access and the right to privacy. He makes his novels available for download on his website, along with his blog, links to articles, and his podcast. He also writes for the website Boing Boing and is active on Twitter.
Genre: Science fiction. Subgenres: cyberpunk, political protest, activism, dystopian
Booktalking Ideas: After his arrest and interrogation, Marcus channels his fear into action. Do you agree with the actions he took to make his point? Do you feel that giving up basic rights to privacy helps keep us safe? If you had nothing to hide, would you hand over your phone or your computer to the police?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 13+
Challenge Issues/Defense: Language, mild sexuality, violence, Anti-American sentiment. Defense: This is a dystopian novel providing a look at a society that allows the military to take over after a terrorist attack. The language and sexuality are in line with what teens are reading and not overtly offensive.
Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?
After reading For the Win, I was interested in reading this more popular Doctorow novel. I wanted to see how the two matched up.