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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blog No. 4:Little Brother by Cory Doctorow


Little Brother
Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information:
Published: April 2008
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Teen
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0765319853
ISBN-13: 978-0765319852
Young Adult Fiction, 8.3 x 5.4 x 1.5 inches
Grades 8-12.

Winner of the Prometheus Award, the Indienet Award, and the White Pine Award (Ontario Library), Nominated for the 2008 Hugo, Nebula, Sunburst and Locus Awards.

Reader’s Annotation:
Seventeen-year-old techno-geek Marcus (aka w1n5t0n) cuts school with good friends one day to have a little fun with his Harajuku Fun Madness Club, but gets caught in one of the biggest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 911. Due to his techno-virtuosity, he is suspect number one, and spends the rest of the action-filled book trying to save himself and his friends, and more importantly, the American Dream of free speech and democracy from a group of government officials who have taken the Patriot Act to the far reaches of logic.

Plot Summary:
After cutting school with his best friends to enjoy a day of techno-gaming with the Harajuko Fun Madness Club, Marcus (aka w1n5t0n) gets caught up in one of the biggest terrorist attacks on American soil since the Twin Towers: this time, it is the Bay Bridge, and nearly 5,000 people have been killed. In a flash, Marcus is picked up by the Department of Homeland Security, who denies him of all of his rights and accuses him of being a terrorist who was instrumental in plotting the whole thing. Marcus, who is exceedingly brilliant in technology, and knows how to reroute signals and get around most of the security systems embedded in computers and on the Web, is also a bit of a smart mouth who deeply believes in and understands the principles that were integral to the development of the nation—the Constitution of the United States. But all of his talking only gets him thrown in jail. Eventually he gets out, and finds all but one of his friends again—one, it seems, may have been killed in the stampede when the bridge exploded. Going “underground” in the only way he can—through the altering of technology and of his identity, Marcus leads his city in a “Don’t Trust Anyone Under 25” type rebellion, and is determined not only to find his missing friend, but to take down the so-called government lunacy that Homeland Security is hiding behind. Even his father, a generally liberal college professor, gets sucked into the propaganda that America has now become. With the free press gone and his every move watched, Marcus has very little opportunity to turn things around. But, he is a fighter, and with his wiles and technological abilities, finds help in an older female reporter, a punked-out singer, and a new friend, Ange, whom he admits, for the very first time, that he loves.

Critical Evaluation:
In many ways, I agree with author Andrew Smith (Ghost Medicine, In the Path of Falling Objects), who has written monumentally in his blog about how much he hates YA! While this book clearly has a young protagonist, and a circle of teenage friends, I firmly believe that LITTLE BROTHER is a book for EVERYONE. Sometimes the “young adult” handle can turn off readers who don’t fit into this age category. Little Brother can easily complete with any of the best Sci-Fi out there—or any novel in any category, for that matter.

Doctorow’s novel (hard to believe it’s his first) is very strong. Filled with strenuously researched facts on technology, Little Brother reads like a treatise on a hundred ways to circumvent technology security systems, but in the most enticing and interesting way possible. While I love technology, I certainly do not understand all of its capabilities and its potentialities, but after reading this book, I almost feel compelled to do so. The future is in the hands of anyone who worships computers—and this book reminds us that it had better be the good guys. And sadly, the government in Doctorow’s book, is NOT the good guy, but has been manipulated and usurped by quasi-fascists who intend on inflicting fear to control the population. Imagine a 17-year-old being water-boarded for standing up for the constitution? It happens here. What is especially concerning is that Doctorow’s novel is not at all unlike Fahrenheit 451: it seems Little Brother’s author has seen the future, and is very, very afraid.

Since Little Brother is marketed as a young adult novel, it is important to note that never once does it “talk down” to teens. The teens in Doctorow’s world are presented with a great deal of brilliance, a desire to look at the status quo and take it down, if that’s what is required to maintain the precepts of freedom. Many times in the novel, Marcus quotes the Constitution almost verbatim, and even the government (aka Homeland Security) basically turns up its collective nose on the whole notion of privacy, free speech and dissent. Perhaps Doctorow all too well remembers the months leading up to March, 2003, when everyday American citizens—poets, peace activists, grandparents and anyone who even remotely questioned the administration back then—found themselves wire-tapped, spied upon, hauled away, fired from jobs or otherwise disrupted, all in the name of “freedom.”

This book is too important for ANYONE to miss.

Reading level/Interest Age:
The publisher recommends this book for grades 8-12. I would broaden that to include savvy sixth graders, and questioning adults. Younger teens will want to live this book; those who only fondly remember their teen years will need to be reminded of the message it contains.

Information about the Author:
Cory Doctorow believes so much in the precepts of free speech that he provides Little Brother as a free download to anyone that wants to read it. Seeming to care less about the money and more about the ideologies of freedom, Doctorow just may be one of the new American heroes—despite the fact that he is Canadian (b. Toronto, 1971).

Cory Doctorow considers himself a science fiction writer. Like Arthur C. Clarke, and many of the genre’s greatest writers, Cory has a great love for science, particularly engineering and technology. As the son of a Jewish activist who followed Trotsky, he grew up questioning everything. Despite the face that he attended four colleges and never graduated from one, Cory Doctorow was named the 2006-2007 Canadian Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and taught a one year writing and teaching residency at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Mr. Doctorow is a frequent speaker on free speech and copyright issues, as well as an advocate for the environment.

Curriculum Ties:
Comparative Literature: A great companion for a Literature course on dystopian classics, including 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Night by Elie Wiesel (nonfiction) and Little Brother.

Booktalking Ideas:
Back in Orwell’s time, the words “Big Brother” referred to a government quickly becoming Fascist to the point where its influence hung heavily over everyone’s life. “Little Brother” is the opposite—he is a 17-year-old boy who firmly believes in technological freedom and First amendment—so much so that he is accused of being the very thing he is not—a terrorist! This book shows its readers the dangers of labels, the dangers of apathy and the dangers of fear—and how one teenager stands up for the county HE believes in and sets it all on end.

Challenge Issues:
In today’s climate, some might call this book un-American. I would hold up other books in this great heritage—Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Night—and remind dissenters that this is a story, it has been recognized as an important books by the ALA and other associations, and helps students develop critical thinking skills.

Why I Included This Book:
I became a librarian because I am not only a reader, but a writer, and one of my biggest fears is censorship—something that might be very up front, but is largely very covert. Doctorow’s book reminds us of the America that might be if we stop paying attention. This book is far too important for any teen to miss. Like Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian novels, Little Brother helps all of us realize that apathy and excessive faith in the status quo can be dangerous to democracy—and to the very precepts of the Constitution. It is a fascinating read and a great history lesson as well.

Cover image courtesy of: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2008/04/book-preview-co.html

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