"Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow


TITLE: Little Brother

AUTHOR: Cory Doctorow

PUBLISHER: Tor Teen

PUBLISHED DATE: April 29, 2008

ISBN: 978-0765319852

PAGES: 384

I promise it was an accident that I finished this book on the anniversary of September 11.

And what a way to remember this world tragedy and analyze the effects of terrorism not just on our national security, but on what cyber security, privacy, and patriotism mean. I was blown away by this book, and think it should be required reading as a way to open up a dialogue about all of these very relevant themes.

Synopsis

To say Marcus is tech savvy is an understatement. He's the kid who builds his dream computer in his garage, and hacks the school's computer network for fun. He's also an extreme gamer and larper and finds himself a suspected terrorist by the Department of Homeland Security after an attack on the United States. He and his friends are hauled off to a detention center where they are questioned, treated badly, and one of Marcus's friends subsequently dies. Upon release, Marcus finds that he's not the only one under constant surveillance - it's the new normal of society. Determined to buck the system, Marcus and some of his friends use a popular music downloading site to offset encryption patterns so that he can organize an underground movement of youth who are against the government's constant surveillance.

Voice

Marcus is incredibly smart, but he's clearly a teenager. I was completely drawn into this story - that gets didactic at times - but ultimately I felt completely sucked into this young man's world of coding, and appreciation for the history of encryption. It's totally accessible so that teens as well as adults could read and appreciate the changing times we're in. Although this book is a dystopian - it reads very real. Written in 2008, it still reads fresh, like it could have been published this year. This s a jewel, that I think young people will be reading for years to come.

Style

The writing style is informal, technical, informative - it's a teen breaking down the rules of the cyber jungle. It's smart and fast paced...it's a definitely a thriller. By the premise I thought I would enjoy this, and I wasn't disappointed.

Setting

San Fran, baby! It's not specific it it's present day or futuristic...but it could be either or. I'm not sure if this book will read as fresh 8 years from now, but it'll certainly give teens of tomorrow a light shed on some of the biggest issues of our time.

Characters

Obviously, Marcus was the richest character. He's wickedly smart, but remains relatable. His father, and a few classmates maintain the position that giving up constitutional liberties in order to keep the country safe is a good thing. Of course, Marcus is wholly opposed to that. Marcus does have a "brown" friend named Jolu who steps down from Marcus' group when the pressure begins to get too much. He explains to Marcus, that "brown" people tend to be targets of the government. This makes Marcus angry. Eventually when Marcus gets locked up at Guantanamo, he notices that he is the only white person incarcerated there. Ange, is Marcus' girlfriend. She's a very strong-willed character who introduces Marcus to his first sexual experiences. Van, is a very smart and conceptual member of the group. She's North Korean, and having spent her early years in North Korea, sees similarities between the loss of rights after the terrorist attacks to the lack of right of the citizens of North Korea.

Cover design

I like the cover. There's something kind of 1970's Charlie's Angels about it. With the blacked out faces, I wrongly assumed at least one of the characters were black....clearly...I was wrong about that.

Plot Organization

The plot moves quickly - which in the case of a dystopian thriller - is a good thing. I thought the story was organized very well. I appreciated how Doctorow incorporated information about technology, encryption, Freegans....he gave so much in this book!

Quotes

“Never underestimate the determination of a kid who is time-rich and cash-poor.”

“I can't go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.”

“Take it from someone who's read the Wikipedia entry: this is how the Ottoman Empire was won: madden horsemen fueled by lethal jet-black coffee-mud.”

“If you've never programmed a computer, you should. There's nothing like it in the whole world. When you program a computer, it does exactly what you tell it to do. It's like designing a machine — any machine, like a car, like a faucet, like a gas-hinge for a door — using math and instructions. It's awesome in the truest sense: it can fill you with awe.”

“There's something really liberating about having some corner of your life that's yours, that no one gets to see except you. It's a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There's nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them.”

“The Bill of Rights was written before data-mining," he said. He was awesomely serene, convinced of his rightness. "The right to freedom of association is fine, but why shouldn't the cops be allowed to mine your social network to figure out if you're hanging out with gangbangers and terrorists?”

“If you love freedom, if you think the human condition is dignified by privacy, by the right to be left alone, by the right to explore your weird ideas provided you don’t hurt others, then you have common cause with the kids whose web-browsers and cell phones are being used to lock them up and follow them around. If you believe that the answer to bad speech is more speech - not censorship - then you have a dog in the fight. If you believe in a society of laws, a land where our rulers have to tell us the rules, and have to follow them too, then you’re part of the same struggle that kids fight when they argue for the right to live under the same Bill of Rights that adults have.”

"There's nothing so rewarding in this world as making stuff, especially stuff that makes you more free.”

“So close the book and go. The world is full of security systems. Hack one of them.”

“The important thing about security systems isn’t how they work, it’s how they fail.”

“The law didn’t care if you were actually doing anything bad; they were willing to put you under the microscope just for being statistically abnormal.”

“In a city of twenty million like New York, there might be one or two terrorists. Maybe ten of them at the outside. 10/20,000,000 = 0.00005 percent. One twenty-thousandth of a percent. That’s pretty rare all right. Now, say you’ve got some software that can sift through all the bank records, or toll pass records, or public transit records, or phone call records in the city and catch terrorists 99 percent of the time. In a pool of twenty million people, a 99 percent accurate test will identify two hundred thousand people as being terrorists. But only ten of them are terrorists. To catch ten bad guys, you have to haul in and investigate two hundred thousand innocent people.”

“I’ve always loved just learning stuff for its own sake. Just to be smarter about the world around me.”

“Any complex system is sport for a hacker;”

“Any time you had a cipher, you were vulnerable to someone smarter than you coming up with a way of breaking it.”

Recommendation: Required.

Audience: Young Adults and Up

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