Book #11: Little Brother

If the rampant security and surveillance that permeates every facet of young Marcus Yallow's life in Cory Doctorow's excellent Little Brother, then it's been a while since you've been in the inside of a city school. Metal detectors, cameras in the hallways...for many kids this is the norm rather than the exception when it comes to their education experience.

There are a lot of things I can point out as exceptional in Doctorow's thrilling Young Adult tale, about a group of kids who rail against the system after being unlawfully detained by the Department of Homeland Security after a bomb explodes in San Francisco, but the key piece that everything else rests on is how he gives voice to his protagonists. I think it's hard to write in the voice of a child, but it's 10 times harder to write in the voice of a modern teenager, and Doctorow pulls off the trick of giving Marcus and his friends a palpable, authentic voice that doesn't ring like it was written by some old guy. Everything hinges on Marcus's response the to terror he finds himself in, and the first half of the novel, where Marcus is detained and tortured by his captors, is terrifying. Marcus isn't your typical "tough guy" hero cliche - he's a smart but very normal 17 year-old kid, and his response to what happens to him is horrible (in a fantastic way) in its realistic portrayal, and I'll admit to having to put the book down for a bit before continuing.

When I picked Little Brother back up a few days later, the next 300+ pages were devoured in one sitting. Having established a high level of trust with Marcus and specifically with his ability to bring me along on Marcus's journey, Doctorow then proceeds to craft a thrilling race against the powers that be, as Marcus attempts to strike back against a system that has deprived him of his freedoms, his civil liberties, and his own nature. Little Brother is unapologetic both in its politics and in its techno-speak: part of the charm of the book lies in Doctorow's comfort and ability to explain and expand upon a lot of the technology (all real, apparently) that lies at the heart of the book. However, Little Brother never sacrifices either genuine emotion or skill in its execution.

An absolute treasure of a book. As an adult I loved every page of it, but if I had a wish it would be that I could give this book to my 16 year-old self - it would have been a life-changing event for him.