Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen (an imprint of MacMillan Publishers), 2008. 416 pages. Recommended for ages 13-17. ISBN: 9780765323118.
Little Brother isn’t exactly science fiction. It could happen now. The story is told by Marcus, a 17-year-old expert hacker living in San Francisco. He and three of his friends skip class to go and play a game one Friday afternoon. There is an explosion. A bridge, we later learned it’s the Bay Bridge, has been blown up by terrorists. Marcus flags down what he thinks is an emergency vehicle to help one of his friends who has been injured. The vehicle belongs to the Department of Homeland Security. Marcus and his friends have sacks put over their heads. He and two friends are held for five or six days, then released. The fourth friend, Darryl, is not released. While in custody, Marcus struggles to maintain his rights under the Bill of Rights. Eventually, he gives up and tells the DHS what they want to know about him.
When Marcus returns to San Francisco, he finds the DHS is watching every person’s movements in an attempt to prevent another terrorist attack. His father, who has no idea that his son was imprisoned, thinks this invasion of privacy is fine. Marcus doesn’t, and neither do the thousands of kids he involves in his attempts to stop the DHS.
The political issues raised are very timely. When is it appropriate to give away our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism, and when should we fight for those civil liberties? Should congressional or judicial oversight of organizations like the DHS be in place, or should they be able to operate freely. Is it right to hold people without telling them why, and without telling their families where they are? Is it right to torture people? In this country, are people still innocent until proven guilty? These are the questions Little Brother raises.
The book has too much explanation of technology for me, but technology geeks would love the explanations. I am a political geek, and I love the political aspects of the book.
It’s clear Doctorow doesn’t know San Francisco well. The most glaring error is the constant reference to BART as “the BART.” I got pulled out of the story a little bit every time he referenced “the BART.”
With the exception of the long paragraphs about technology, this book is fun, and the political issues are even more pressing now than they were when the book was written in 2008.