Little Brother

I really enjoyed reading Little Brother for class. It is included in my database in order to provide a bit more breadth, as its technological focus is quite different than the fantasy and paranormal books which are my default choice of reading. Little Brother has also won several awards and honors including Amazon.com Top 10 Editor’s Picks: Teens, the CYBIL Award, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Kirkus Best Book of the Year, Publisher’s Weekly Kids Galley to Grab, Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of the Year, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, VOYA’s Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, and Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List (retrieved August 2nd, 2009 from http://us.macmillan.com/littlebrother). Little Brother is available for free download at http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/.

Author: Cory Doctorow
ISBN-10: 0765319853 ISBN-13: 9780765319852
City and Publisher: NY: Tor Teen
Copyright Date: 2008
Author’s Website: http://craphound.com/

Reader’s Annotation: Marcus Yallow knows more about technology than any of his high school teachers and most definitely the principal. After terrorists attack San Francisco, Marcus and his friends are held as enemy combatants by the Department of Homeland Security so decides to put his knowledge to use subverting the government’s increasing fascism.

Plot Summary: Marcus Yallow has his world figured out. He’s smart enough to hack through all the snoopy school security measures, like the gait-recognition cameras in the hallways and the integrity checks on his SchoolBook laptop. When he skips school one day to play the alternate reality game Harajuku Fun Madness, terrorists attack his city. The Department of Homeland Security picks him up as an enemy combatant and holds him and his friends illegally for three days. When all but one of them are finally released, Marcus decides to use his tech skills to fight back against the increasingly fascist security measures taken by the government as it tries to prevent further terrorism.

Critical Evaluation: Little Brother is a gripping tale of security in the age of invasive technology. Doctorow deftly weaves information about online culture, cryptography, terrorism, revolution, and role playing games with a story that is both a thriller and a coming of age story. Its detail is fascinating for older readers who are still coming to terms with the internet and technological change; hopefully the story and its influences from 50s and 60s counterculture are interesting enough to hold the attention of the millenials, who are internet natives.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 and up
Curriculum Ties: Little Brother’s information about security, technology, 50s and 60s counterculture, and a government’s attempt to keep its citizens safe make it an interesting tie in with both technology and late American history classes. The book is also heavily influenced by Orwell’s 1984 and would make a good companion volume.
Booktalking Ideas: Create a mini alternate reality game in which students find information in the library about Abbie Hoffman and cryptography and then create a circle of trust with security keys. Provide a short plot summary.

Genre: Science Fiction
Influences from Other Genres: Cyberpunk, Dystopian Novel, Thriller

Challenge Issues:
Marcus Yallow is a revolutionary in San Francisco immediately following the massive destruction of human life by a terrorist act. Some parents may be uneasy with both the terrorism depicted in the book and Marcus’ illegal and disruptive actions. Marcus himself, and his friends, are also uneasy with these issues. Little Brother makes a great case for openness in government and the importance of free speech, and while Marcus’ activities are cool, it is his unwillingness to accept the status quo that is the message of this book, rather than his methods.

About the Author: Cory Doctorow is a blogger, author, and technology activist. He co-edits Boing Boing, has published several adult science fiction novels, and campaigns regularly for open source and the relaxation of copyright laws for digital media. He lives in London and became a dad in February of 2008. Little Brother is his first young adult novel, but he is working on his second, entitled FOR THE WIN. (More details at http://craphound.com/bio.php)

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