Little Brother

Little Brother

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.

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Gringolandia

GringolandiaGringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Curbstone Books (now Northwestern University Press), 2009. 288 pages. Recommended for ages 14 and older. ISBN: 9781931896498.

In 1973, with the help of the CIA, a democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and a military junta led by Augusto Pinochet took his place. The junta was responsible for violent repression of dissent. Many people were tortured. Many people were killed. Many people simply disappeared.

In the book, Daniel’s father, Marcelo, was an active dissenter. The book starts in 1980 when the military comes to Daniel’s house in the middle of the night, brutally beats and then arrests his father.

Daniel’s mother and his younger sister leave Chile to live in Wisconsin. In 1986, after six years of torture, Marcelo is released from prison and ordered to leave Chile and never return. Daniel and his mother pick Marcelo up from the airport in Chicago. He is nothing like the man Daniel remembers as his father.

Daniel has become comfortable with the United States. He wants to become a US citizen. Marcelo calls it “Gringolandia.” Marcelo suffers from terrible headaches, from nightmares, from strong reactions when he is touched. He wants to write again, as he wrote before he went to prison. Daniel’s girlfriend is able to help Marcelo publicize the plight of Chileans.

This is a book about the horrors the Chilean government, or any government, can commit when it is not beholden to an electorate. It’s a book about the results of those horrors as demonstrated by Marcelo and the affect Marcelo has on his family.

It’s also a book about a young man and his father. Daniel wants his father to be the way he was when Daniel was young. Marcelo wants Daniel to be a Chilean.

The book is told in three voices, Daniel, Marcelo and Daniels girlfriend Courtney. Miller-Lachmann has solid control over all three voices. The pace of the story is constant. There’s an author’s note at the beginning which talks about the history of Chile in the 70s and 80s. I find it very helpful for the authors note appears at the beginning of the book rather than at the end.

One of my favorite singers from the time when Pinochet ran Chile, Tom Paxton, wrote a song called “The White Bones of Allende.” Another singer, Holly Near, wrote “Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida.”

This is an important story. It’s important that we vote in this country, that we keep our democracy so that nothing like what happened in Chile will ever happen here.

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