Sunday, March 6, 2011

Review: Little Brother (Doctorow)

Little Brother
Cory Doctorow
416 p.
ISBN-13: 9780765323118
Doherty, Tom Associates
Publication date: April 2008

Genre: Science-fiction; dystopia

Overall Rating: Highly recommended
Give it to: Middle and high school boys and girls; short length and fast-paced plot make it great for reluctant readers

Summary: After a terrorist attack in San Fransisco, 17-year old Marcus Yallow and three of his friends are detained by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security as terror suspects. The friends are separated, searched, questioned, imprisoned, and denied food, water, and other basics. After a week of illegal detainment, they are released and threatened with prison or worse if they ever tell what happened to them. Marcus vows revenge and ultimately creates and unwittingly leads a rebellion against an enormous enemy--the U.S. government.

What I liked: George Orwell meets John Grisham! I read all day yesterday and really loved it! As in 1984, Little Brother warns of a scary not-so-distant-future where the government, specifically the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, illegally watches, searches, detains, arrests, and tortures American citizens in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. This book is an important read for today's youth and adults, many of whom would readily sacrifice privacy and freedoms simply so they can feel "safe." Scary stuff.

The characters are believable. Marcus does not set out to become a hero, but he cannot allow the DHS to get away with terrorizing the very citizens who pay their salaries. He is a good person: Marcus stops running to help a lady who falls during the stampede of people running from terrorists. He feels bad when he kisses Ange in front of Van. Marcus messes up, falters, and even tries to give up a few times, but these events make his character all the more believable. Ange is a great counterpart to Marcus; she is a smart, witty, strong female character who supports Marcus when he doubts himself. I love Marcus's parents, especially the dynamic in the way they feel about the blatant invasions of personal freedoms. Marcus's mother, a Brit, has the DHS's number right from the beginning. Marcus's father, an American, only wants his family to be safe; he wants to believe the illusion that if they just do what they are told, they will be together and safe. He believes his government has everyone's best interest at heart.

The story is fast-paced. Plenty of times, I could not put the book down. Lots of action! I always enjoy a good run-for-your-life dystopia!!!

The message makes you think. Who are the real terrorists here? Doctorow never discloses the year the story takes place, but it is probably not too far in the future. There are a few "futuristic" gadgets (gait recognition technology, for example) that, if they exist today (they may), are not widely-used like they are in the book. It seems the book takes place maybe two to five years in the future. They talk about 9/11 and the Vietnam War as if they personally remember it. Could the events happen today? Absolutely. Is it happening today? I believe it probably is.

What I didn't like: Little Brother is a little slow to start. Once Marcus and his friends are kidnapped, the story moves much more quickly (and is much easier to read). Lots of technology terms and hacking how-tos make it a slow read in parts, and I had to go back and reread some of the tech explanations because I wanted to make sure I understood fully. That said, the explanations are clear, even for the lay-person. I sure learned a lot about hacking!

Language--very mild considering the horrific situation Marcus finds himself in; a couple of a** and GDs
Sexuality--medium-high; 2 intense make-out scenes and one intercourse scene, but nothing is explicit. Marcus talks about being a "horn-dog" a couple of times; characters use condoms

Violence--mild;characters are denied food and water; brief water boarding; a woman is trampled to death by a mob; a teen gets stabbed; nothing is described in detail 

Status in my library: On order; I don't think it will be a huge overall hit, but the ones who love techno-thrillers will love it.