By September 5, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

Little Brother

Young Marcus Yallow and three teen friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time, playing a game on the streets of San Francisco when a bomb destroys the Bay Bridge. Before they know what has happened, they’ve been detained by Homeland Security and accused of terrorism. Three of the four are eventually released (under threat to keep silent about what they experienceLittle Brotherd), while Marcus’s friend Daryl disappears, possibly to his death, possibly to a prison camp in the bay’s Treasure Island.

That’s the frightening starting point of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, a young adult novel that deserves to be read by young and old alike. The story follows Marcus in the months that follow the attack, as he tries to fight back against draconian, counterproductive anti-terror measures that seem not to catch terrorists and threaten to turn his city and country into a police state.

Every reader will not love this novel, but all will find it highly discussable. There are three main reasons why the book could raise hackles: First, you may simply disagree with its politics, although Doctorow is persuasive, creating a very believable scenario for a descent into authoritarianism. Second, Marcus is a teen boy: he’s full of himself and acts brashly at times. Some of his actions are morally questionable, especially for a teenager. Third, the book includes a plethora of near future technical detail. Doctorow does a fine job of explaining how the government can employ technologies we use every day to superficially track our behavior and how Marcus and others attempt to thwart their actions with other consumer technologies. He mixes all of the jargon gracefully into an exciting, fast-paced story. Still there’s a lot to explain and some readers may find this technical detail overwhelming.

In the end, however, it’s exactly these “flaws” and “weaknesses” (I’ll leave you and your group to decide if those scare quotes should stay) that make this book such a fine choice for book groups. There’s a great deal to think about here, and it’s a subject that isn’t going away anytime soon. This is a great opportunity to explore a complex matter in a highly entertaining context. As long as your group can handle some political discussion, Little Brother would make a fine selection.

If you’d like to continue your exploration of this topic, pair this novel with Orwell’s 1984, Clifford Chase’s clever teddy bear interrogation novel Winkie, Dan Fesperman’s strong suspense story The Prisoner of Guantanamo, or any of the excellent nonfiction books that have been published about the War on Terror or the aftermath of 9/11.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Little Brother"

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  1. misha.stone@spl.org' misha says:

    Check out these interviews with Doctorow on The Seattle Public Library staff blog, Shelf Talk:

    Part 1:
    http://shelftalk.spl.org/2008/05/15/shelf-talks-with-cory-doctorow-pt-1/

    Part 2:
    http://shelftalk.spl.org/2008/05/16/shelf-talks-with-cory-doctorow-pt-2/

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