Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information: Doctorow, C. (2010). Little Brother. New York, NY: Tor Teen.  ISBN: 0765323117.  416 pages.

Plot Summary: When teen techno genius Marcus gets a message that the Harajuku Fun Madness game has a new clue available, he is not going to let a little thing like school get in the way of his fun.  And, it’s only right that his friends go to downtown San Francisco with him.  But what starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge, leaving residents and law enforcement officers on high alert.  When homeland security teams swoop in to prevent any more terrorist destruction, they take Marcus and his friends into custody.  Marcus questions Homeland Security’s methods when he learns all that is happening in the name of protecting the city and its people.  Marcus, always a bit of a rebel, takes on those who would limit freedom and invade privacy for ostensible security, using his technological prowess, online connections with other hackers, and pure chutzpah.  Can one teenager really make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Exciting, gripping, and immensely entertaining, Little Brother has cross-genre appeal.  Part science fiction, mystery, and adventure, part realistic fiction, dystopian novel and techno-thriller, this book has much to offer to many different readers.  The heavy use of technology within the plot, but just a bit more than we have access to now, gives the novel an “in the not too distant future” feel.  The book is relatively long, but maintains reader interest by being action packed and fairly fast paced.  From a lonely prison cell to a large-scale demonstration in a public park, readers take a fantastic ride with Marcus, portrayed by Doctorow as a complex character with depth.  Like many teens, his friends are of central importance to him, he falls in love, and he doesn’t tell his parents much about what is going on with him, but in other ways Marcus is quite unique.  He spends much of his free time living in a virtual world of hackers where nobody knows his real name.  Marcus doesn’t always follow the rules, and he is very adept at avoiding being caught, for example, he puts small pebbles in his shoes to throw off the school’s gait recognition software that would be able to identify him as he sneaks out during school hours.  Details like these bring the reader into the story and into the life of Marcus, who, for all his mischief, is shown to be intelligent, creative and a good person who cares about the people and world around him.  Doctorow’s opinions about freedom of speech and privacy online, he is NOT a fan of the PATRIOT ACT, for example, are obvious in the novel, but his treatment of the characters who express opposing views is not completely unsympathetic.  A New York Times Best Seller, Little Brother has won several awards and honors, for example, 2009 VOYA Science Fiction for Young Adults/Golden Duck Award, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008, and the 2009 White Pine Award (According to Wikipedia, “The White Pine Award is an annual literature award sponsored by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that has awarded Canadian young adult books since 2002.”).

Reader’s Annotation: What starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge.  Marcus and his friends must stand up to the powers that be, who seem to value perceived security over freedom.

Information about the Author: Information about Cory Doctorow from the blog Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/), of which Doctorow is an editor, “Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger.”  Doctorow’s activism surrounds issues of free speech and privacy in online environments.   Doctorow, “has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum,” (http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow).  Cory Doctorow was born in Canada and currently lives in London.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Realistic Fiction

SubGenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Espionage and Terrorism; Techno-Thriller

Topics Covered: Freedom of Speech, Internet Privacy, Online Privacy, Love, Sexuality, Friendship, Activism,

Curriculum Ties: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, Government, Internet Privacy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if every where you went someone was trying to get you?  And this wasn’t paranoia?
  • How much freedom would you give up for safety?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-17

Challenge Issues: Anti-government sentiment, sexual activity, illegal activities.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Originally included as part of class readings, Little Brother adds genre diversity to a collection. Little Brother is also an exciting, entertaining, and though-provoking read.

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