July 2008

Challenging a new world order

By Cory Doctorow
Review by
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Your kid knows Marcus Yallow. Heck, your kid might be Marcus Yallow! Who is he? He's the 21st-century equivalent of a 1950s teenage shade tree mechanic, but instead of measuring speed in terms of miles per hour, he measures it in terabytes per second. He's the geek in the crowd, in a world where the term geek is one of respect. He's a typical teenager, without a care in the world, but Marcus' world comes to a shattering halt when his hometown of San Francisco is hit with the next 9/11.

Cory Doctorow's much talked-about new novel for teens, Little Brother, opens with an act of terrorism on a frightening scale: the Bay Bridge is destroyed, with a devastating loss of life. The real impact though, is afterward, when a government overreaction turns life in the City by the Bay into a nightmarish 1984-type society where every movement is tracked, every word recorded, every thought considered suspicious. Marcus is caught up in the paranoia, and an innocent game ends up getting him and three friends arrested and imprisoned without trial, brutally interrogated, then released with a warning: tell no one. Although four friends are swept into this maelstrom, only three emerge—Marcus' friend Darryl has "disappeared." Marcus is forced into making a choice: either submit quietly like his parents to this new world order, or fight back. He and his techno-savvy friends decide on the latter course and commence a dangerous game of chicken with the Department of Homeland Security. Along with his newfound girlfriend Ange, Marcus must find a way to disrupt DHS trampling of civil liberties, to overcome a docile press' repetition of government propaganda and somehow to let the world know the truth: that thousands of innocent people are being held as political prisoners on an island in San Francisco Bay.

With its harrowing look at government abuse of power, Little Brother is clearly a political novel with a message for its young readers. It's also as savvy a political thriller as any written for adults (think Ludlum or Clancy). There's some drug and alcohol use and teenage sex, which makes the book an appropriate choice mostly for older teens. They'll find it a thrilling read that makes them think about what it really means to be free.

James Neal Webb is a '60s radical cleverly disguised as a middle-aged librarian.

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Little Brother

Little Brother

By Cory Doctorow
ISBN 9780765319852

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