Doctorow, Cory (2008). Little Brother. NY: Tor Teen. 382 pages.
After terrorists attack San Francisco and blow up the Bay Bridge, seventeen-year-old Marcus is detained by the Department of Homeland Security for essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A hacker, gamer, and healthy paranoiac, Marcus is shaken by the experience and, together with two friends, develops a number of electronic methods of escaping and even countering the increasing surveillance of the government. As Marcus’s hacks become more elaborate and escalate at the pace of the government’s anti-terrorist measures, he finds himself the inadvertent leader of a growing youth movement questioning the government’s measures against terror.
Doctorow’s novel is realistic but speculative and imagines government surveillance writ only slightly larger than it is today (I’ve always been suspicious of those EZ Passes, myself) and Marcus’s electronic counterintelligence measures are clearly–if a bit zealously–explained for the technological newbie. The novel touches on a number of hot-button topics, namely, the value and relevancy of the Constitution and personal privacy during a “War on Terror” as well as the right of any (American) citizen to question his or her government; however, it couches these within an admittedly suspenseful narrative.
I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, though at times I felt as if I was being preached to a bit. I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m a member of whatever choir is installed in Doctorow’s house of worship, even if I can’t program for shit (my dubious edits of YA or STFU’s new WordPress “theme” notwithstanding; my husband did most of the heavy lifting). That said, the scenes in Marcus’s high school social studies class in which the students debated the Constitution seemed ripped from a Chris Crutcher novel and served only to hammer in the already present Question Authority theme.
The novel concludes with two “Afterwards”–written by Bruce Schneier and Andrew Huang–that describe the work of a technological securities expert and hacker, respectively. Following these brief writings is an annotated bibliography (written by Doctorow) and two pages of acknowledgements. I mention these paratextual elements to highlight what I think even further drives home what seems to be the didactic purpose of the novel and I have to wonder if these additions would be included in an analogous adult novel.