Friday, September 11, 2009

Review of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Publisher: Tor Teen
Pages: 384
Age Group: Young Adult

Summary (adapted from book cover):
While skipping out of school to play an Alternative Reality Game (ARG), 17 year old Markus and his friends find themselves caught at the center of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. Apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Markus and his friends are interrogated and tortured. Upon his release, Markus finds that his city has become a police state and that his world has been changed forever. Can a 17 year old computer hacker and his friends fight back against the DHS and the sweeping paranoia of a community and bring about a change? Just maybe…

Before anyone says “I’m not into stories about computer geeks”, I want to challenge you to give this a shot. I consider myself reasonably computer savvy by way of the average computer user. However elevate it to the level of techno-babble, and my eyes glaze over and my head spins. Yet, author Cory Doctorow does a great job in making the story enjoyable for geeks and non-geeks. Though I questioned the extensive technical explanations from the story’s teen narrator in the early chapters, I quickly realized that I would likely be lost without them and felt free to skim the explanations about things that I had a better grasp of.

Doctorow’s main character is a likeable 17 year old computer hacker who enjoys hanging out with his friends and playing computer games. Markus finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and his responses to the circumstances set off a series of events that will forever change him and his view of the world. As he struggles to battle against the government, his close friends distance themselves from him and he finds a new ally and partner in a 17 year old girl who is his computer equal.

As I read through the story, I felt that the author did a reasonable job with the struggles and choices that Markus has to make. Are all his choices the right or best choices? No. Sometimes his choices actually set into motion a whole series of other events which at times make things worse. And despite questioning the actions and intentions of all adults throughout the story, Markus eventually finds he needs the assistance of his parents and several other adults in order to find the best resolution.

Adult readers will enjoy the references back to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and comparisons to the late sixties civil rights movement in San Francisco. Additionally, though some may find Markus’ parents’ reactions, particularly his father’s reactions somewhat annoying, I actually thought that given the circumstances that they were justifiable.

Overall, I found the book to be an enjoyable read which held my attention despite a few times when I started to glaze over from the more technical descriptions. I have already recommended the novel to both teens and adults that I know and would continue to recommend it.

Note: There are often lots of debate regarding YA stories and whether language or sexual content should be included in novels written for teens. The language and sexual content in this book is typical to what most teens would be exposed to in an average high school or age appropriate movie.

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