Get ready to squee, people: we have a guest blogger tonight who just so happens to be a published YA fiction writer! Awesome, right? And admittedly, out of our league! The fabulous Jenn Bosworth, author of Struck, graciously reviewed Little Brother by Cory Doctorow for us and since I’ve never heard of this book, but Neil Gaiman obviously has (look at the jacket cover!) I think it deserves more than just a cursory look now, don’t you?
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Harper Voyager; paperback / softback edition (13 Oct 2008)
It’s been four years since I first read Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, but some books are so important, so troubling, so thought-provoking that they stick in your mind like a subliminal message. But the message I took from Little Brother was far from subliminal. This book shouts its moral from the pages without the guise of subtlety, and it works. Sometimes a message is so important and so worthy of attention, it deserves to be shouted.
Little Brother is about a seventeen-year-old hacker named Marcus, who, online, goes by the handle “win5ton.” Marcus knows how to work the system, easily outwitting his high school’s surveillance systems to sneak out of school, and getting up to all kinds of cyber hijinks. But when Marcus and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the worst possible time, during the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco, they’re apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security. After days of torturous interrogation in a clandestine prison––during which no one has any idea where he is––Marcus is released, but not all of his friends are so lucky. On the outside, he finds that his city has become a police state, every citizen a suspected terrorist. And before releasing him, the DHS promised Marcus they’d be watching him carefully. If he steps a toe out of line, they’ll whisk him back to prison. No one will know where he is or what happened to him. In this brave new world, the DHS has all the power and none of the accountability. It’s up to Marcus and his crew of hackers and programmers to take their city, and their rights, back.
I wouldn’t call Little Brother dystopian, even though it brings to mind novels like “1984,” and even though it depicts the dreaded “government gone wild” scenario. Dystopian novels are a division of science fiction, and Little Brother doesn’t feel like science fiction. It feels like something that could happen tomorrow. Or in an hour. Or five minutes from now. Or that is happening under our noses, in some other part of the country or the world. But this book does accomplish what all good dystopian novels should: it makes you think, and it makes you wonder what you can do to prevent a nightmarish potential future from becoming a nightmarish reality.
In Little Brother, it is not apathy or a cultured willingness to be dominated that results in such dire, totalitarian circumstances. The characters who populate this book are real people, not drones who’ve undergone mind-altering surgeries or who, over decades, have grown accustomed to living like sheep. That’s why it’s even scarier when you see these people submitting to domination by an out of control government agency. In circumstances like these, it’s nearly impossible for people to know what to do, who to trust, or who
to fear most.
But Marcus knows, and even though Marcus is only seventeen, he’s not without power of his own. Like a certain girl with a dragon tattoo, Marcus is at his best when he’s at his keyboard, where age doesn’t matter. Where even a high school student can become a leader and a symbol for rebellion against injustice. The message Little Brother shouts from its pages is that anyone can make a difference. Anyone can affect change in a messed up world. Even a kid.
Jenn Bosworth is the author of STRUCK, an exciting new dystopian debut out Spring 2012. Her novel follows Mia Price, a lightning addict, who has survived countless strikes, but craves to connect to the energy in storms which can only endanger her life and the lives of those around her.
You can also chat with Jenn on twitter:@JennBosworth