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Thursday, May 14, 2015

You could call this book pre-post apocolyptic or pre-distopian, or you could just call it a honking good YA novel!

Doctorow, Cory  (2008) Little Brother.  New York: Tor

Opening Lines:  I'm a senior at Cesar Chavez High in San Francisco's sunny Mission District, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world.  My name is Marcus Yallow, but back when this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n.  Pronounced "Winston."

Marcus is a high school student who likes to do some computer hacking in his spare time. He messes with the school's ID Card monitoring system, plays some live action computer games with his friends in the city, and though he often gets summoned to the principal's office, he never gets into trouble because he is very good at covering his  tracks.  When Marcus and his friends are in San Francisco playing a complicated problem-solving, live-action game, there is a terrorist attack on San Francisco and Marcus and his friends get herded up and detained.  Marcus is separated from his friends, including a buddy who has been injured, and then threatened and tortured.  When he is released  after several days.  He emerges into a world when technology is being used to track all citizens and many civil rights that Marcus takes for granted are being eroded.  Marcus needs to decide whether to play it save, or take on the system.  What follows is a novel that is smart, action-packed, and the sort of book where you will find yourself deeply rooting for Marcus and his friends.  The ending is satisfying.

What I love most about this book is that, although it does not take place in a future distopian world where everything is out of balance and only dim memories remain of out way of life in 21st century, it does many of the things that distopian novels ought to do, but don't.  The story takes one or two aspects of our life today (the increasing degree of technological surveillance and the eroding of civil rights in a world terrified of terrorism) and pushes them just the littlest bit, then shows how that would play out in our world.   It makes for a book that is easy to get into, that raises important issues, and that sticks with you for a good long while.

This book is probably best for high school and could be used in the English, computer science, math, or Social Studies classroom (especially Government class), but I need to pass on some warnings.   First, there is a fair amount of vulgarity.  Marcus and his friends talk like many teenagers.  There are also a couple of sexual scenes (though they are quick and really not very explicit.

Read the book and see what you think.  

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