Little Brother

By Cory Doctorow

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Tor, c2008, 2010

Genres: Science fiction, general fiction

ISBN: 9780765323118

Intended audience: Young adult

Number of pages: 416 – includes 2 afterwards, a bibliography, acknowledgements, and excerpts from For the Win.  The story is 365 pages.

Setting: San Francisco, CA and the Bay area

Time period: Contemporary

Plot summary: When Marcus and his friends decide to ditch school for a rousing round of Harajuku Fun Madness, they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Bay Bridge is bombed by terrorists.  They are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and detained until they give all of the information which DHS requests, including passwords to their phones and emails.  When finally released, Marcus vows to get back at the DHS for using terrorist methods for obtaining information from American citizens.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: This is an accelerated story which tends to slow down only when some kind of technology is being explained.  As soon as the reader understands how the technology works, the plot swiftly resumes.

Characterization: The story is told in first person through Marcus.  The most important secondary characters are Marcus’s friends: Darryl, Van, Jolu, and later, Ange.

Language: Youth centered language – uses slang and amusing descriptions of people like – severe haircut lady, Mr. Wiener Dog, Booger, and Zit.

Frame: Orwellian – from the title of the book (in reference to Big Brother) to the opening scene in Marcus’s high school (with laptops loaded with spyware programs and gait recognition cameras in the school), this story is told by someone who is not just being paranoid – he is being watched.

Tone: In spite of the sinister frame, the tone of this book is quite hopeful.  Little brother is not old enough to know that he can’t win against Big Brother.

Story line: A timely story which questions government responses to terrorism and a lack of privacy to security.

Subject headings:

From PCPL:

United States. Dept. of Homeland Security — Fiction.

Civil rights — Fiction.

Computer hackers — Fiction.

Counterculture — Fiction.

Terrorism — Fiction.

San Francisco (Calif.) — Fiction.

Young adult fiction.

Similar authors:

George Orwell – 1984

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

Neal Shusterman – Unwind

Scott Westerfield – Uglies

There is also a Recommended Reads list of 20 books by J. Marin Younker which can be found on NoveList.

Personal notes: I thought this book was utterly amazing – scary, intense, and very real.  It has the feel of “it can’t happen here” except that it already is.  Even though the mainstream media does not call it “spying”, the Lower Merion School District (PA) was taking pictures of their students without their consent or knowledge through their laptop tracking program.  This sounds very much like a Big Brother situation.

Other (diversity, themes, websites): Diversity – hackers, Korean American, Mexican American, Alternative Reality Gamers, Live Action Role Players (Larpers), San Francisco kids

Cory Doctorow’s website

Free download of Little Brother.

This book has won many awards including: YALSA 2009 Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 White Pine Award, 2009 John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and others

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