Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little Brother

"I learned that they can't be trusted. That if you're not fighting them, you're helping them. That they'll turn this country into a prison if we let them. What did you learn, Van? To be scared all the time, to sit tight and keep your head down and hope you don't get noticed? You think it's going to get better? If we don't do anything, this is as good as it's going to get. It will only get worse and worse from now on. You want to help Darryl? Help me bring them down!"

Title: Little Brother

Author: Cory Doctorow

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2311-8

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: Little Brother tells the tale of Marcus Yallow, a San Franciscan teen hacker who is a genius with technology, and his friends, as they sneak out of school one day to follow clues from an online game. Thus, they are outside when a bomb blows up the Bay Bridge and their friend Darryl is stabbed on the way to the fallout shelter. To find help, they leave the shelter and are swept up by Homeland Security and psychologically tortured for information. After Marcus and his friends give up the information the DHS want, including the encryption codes for his phone, they are returned home, but without Darryl. The DHS moves into California, cracking down especially on San Francisco and installing observation cameras and gait readers, as well as vans that track shareware and the underground system that Marcus installs in order to freely search the internet and communicate with people. Marcus declares war on the DHS for this governmental crackdown on his basic right to freedom as well as for capturing his friend.

Critical Evaluation: Little Brother is a striking and often grim image of a world not that different from our own, a world in which government and technology can get out of hand and take over the normal day-to-day lives of thousands of people. The characters within Little Brother and the main character of Marcus may be more technologically advanced and more socially and politically active than many readers but they do so in an inspirational manner that will perhaps get the readers interested in technology, the idea of freedom and if it is being taken for granted, and the world events around them. The plot of Little Brother was fast paced and riveting in its detail and its unapologetic explanation of the events unfolding. Marcus' torture is not avoided and the readers experience it as he does, the horror of the situation despite his bravado, and his personal decision to never give up his fight against the DHS and to free his friend Darryl.

Reader's Annotation: Marcus and his gang of friends are mistakenly apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security after the bombing of the San Francisco Bay Bridge; all but their friend Darryl is returned safely. Now, Marcus has to fight against the DHS who has turned his city into a Police State in order to protect his own personal freedom and the freedom of everyone who is a citizen.

Information About the Author: Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger. He is also the co-editor of Boing Boing (
Doctorow's latest novel is FOR THE WIN, a young adult novel based on online MMO gold-farming corruption and his latest short story collection is WITH A LITTLE HELP. Read more about Doctorow, included the expanded version of his biography, and follow his exploits at his website.

Genre: Terrorism; Police State; Teen Resistance; Technology; Civil Liberties

Curriculum Ties: Declaration of Independence; 9/11

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Imagine a world in which every action, every text message, every email you send and every website you browse is scanned and recorded by the Department of Homeland Security. Your basic freedom to information and free speech is taken away, as anything that could be viewed as anti-government or anti-American can result in you disappearing. Just like that. Marcus Yallow and his friends disappeared after the bombing of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and were released after psychological torture, humiliation, and the release of their personal codes for their mobile devices. Their friend, Darryl, was not released. Marcus takes it upon himself to fight back against the DHS for the freedom of all his fellow SF residents and to free his friend.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • The level of violence and torture within this novel can be harsh to readers, but the topics that it covers and the realism within it make it necessary to be read. Like many books on school reading lists, it may show the darker side of life that teachers may not want their teens to see, but in a world where information is so easily available, teens need to be informed about such issues as human rights.
Why This Book?: New York Times Bestseller; Hugo Award for Best Novel Finalist

Reference Page:
Doctorow, C. (2008). Little Brother. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

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