Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Little Brother

Biblio Bits Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Tor Teen, 2008 (ISBN 9780765319852)

Reading Level/Interest Age 900 lexile/Ages 14+

Genre Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Plot Summary
Marcus (screen name w1n5t0n) is just your typical, technologically savvy seventeen year-old. He lives in the San Francisco's Mission District, likes hanging out with his friends, and playing Harajuku Fun Madness (an ARG---Alternative Reality Game). He's figured out some quick hacks to get around the school's security firewalls and subvert the motion-recognition software on the CCTV monitors. Marcus convinces his buddies to ditch school and pursue the next clue for HFN, but while they're out there is a terrorist attack and a big explosion. In the mayhem that ensues, the teens are picked up and whisked away in large, black SUVs, as suspects; they are interrogated and held and they are not sure by whom. When they are finally released, with orders not to say anything to anyone about their interrogation, they return to a new San Francisco. In order to protect its citizens, there are now strict security measures in place all over the city, and Marcus and their friends know they are being watched. Marcus is determined not to give up and to subvert the system that is threatening democracy, in whatever way he can.

Critical Evaluation
Doctorow packs a lot of civics into this one volume: everything from activism to democracy to privacy to a police state to the Department of Homeland Security...and more. Sometimes the narrative takes a distinctly lesson-like turn that slows the pace of the action and plot, but these sections never last too long and the content is really interesting/scary. Doctorow has created a novel of empowerment: these are engaged teens who realize what they are losing in favor of being "safe." This is a refreshing change from books in which teens are powerless and disaffected. There are two stellar Afterwords and a Bibliography that are not to be missed.

Reader's Annotation
Big Brother is Watching; Little Brother is Fighting Back!

Author Information
Cory Doctorow was born in Toronto and now lives in London with his family. He is the co-editor of Boing Boing, a blogger, science fiction author, journalist, and activist. Doctorow used to work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties" (Doctorow, here). He has delivered some great speeches about privacy and rights, like this one. (Information in this brief bio was found at the author's official site.)

Challenge issues
I wrote a blog post about this title when I first read it and bemoaned the fact that there is this one sex scene which definitely limits the audience to whom I would recommend this title. Yes, it's protected sex, and yes, it's between two people who care about each other. But it would still probably make some younger teens/tweens uncomfortable who otherwise might have really loved this book. I usually feel this out with a question like "there's some boy/girl stuff in here..." and the reader either cringes visibly or shakes it off as no sweat. (And as an aside, the author emailed me a response!) Also, there is a very graphic description of water-boarding that is totally, and appropriately, disturbing.

Booktalking Ideas
This title would be at home with other books that portray a clever twist on an idea, similar to The Last Book in the Universe (Philbrick) or So Yesterday (Westerfeld).

Curriculum Ties
Oooh, oooh---this book screams to be in a middle/high school civics class! The power of this book lies in the "it could be now," post-9/11 setting. It could provide some good fodder for debate: what liberties are we sacrificing in favor of protecting ourselves? What current or recent events fall into this tricky catch 22?

Why this book?
Because Cory Doctorow is this librarian's idea of a modern hero: so smart, so savvy, so forward-thinking that I might even admit to having a small crush on his ideas.

School Library Journal, Best Books, 2008; New York Times Notable Children's Books, 2008; Booklist Editors' Choice Award, 2008.

Rockport Public Library owns?

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