Aug 2, 2015

Best Read of July - Little Brother by Cory Doctorow



I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Little Brother. I started reading it during a hiking trip and once in awhile would put it down to comment to my friend. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not and she kept laughing at my confusion. I pressed on however (it's won awards) and now that I'm done I know at least it's worth the read.

This was written in 2008 and is very much a post 9/11 story. It takes place in San Francisco (hometown box, check!) and early on the Bay Bridge is blown up. It was quite sad, I much prefer the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate bridge personally. But anyway, the main character, Marcus, is skipping school when this happens with friends and they are immediately picked up by the government. Subjected to what can be called psychological torture, Marcus is quizzed about his involvement in the attack and forced to give up passwords for his phone and e-mail accounts. After days, he's released with the condition to never tell anyone what happened at the risk of getting arrested again and 'disappearing'.

Marcus comes home to find his parents had been grieving, thinking he was dead, and two of his friends are also safe at home. Of the third, there's no sign.

What follows is Marcus's efforts to subvert the government's new surveillance programs. In his opinion, the government is doing a better job at terrifying America than the terrorists who had blown up the bridge. The government has to leave, and the way to force them out is to show their methods aren't working by banding together hacker activists.

The plot was interesting, mainly because living in a 9/11 America a lot of the stuff was real for me (*ahem* Patriot Act *ahem*). But that also made it disturbing at the same time because it was a SF very close to real life that I didn't like. There were definitely parts of the book that made me feel unsettled, and not in the Hunger Games way where I had to step back from the action of Katniss's situation to realize the government is using the slaughter of children to keep it's citizens in line. Police having access to my traffic data through Clipper and FasTrac, and then pulling me aside for questioning when I do something abnormal, though innocent? Heck that could happen next week, feasibly.

This book got under my skin in a creepy way, and tossing in landmarks I was familiar with just made it worse.

Doctorow did do an amazing job of explaining all the hacker stuff in laymen's terms so I understood what all these kids were doing. And learned a bit, which was fun. I always wanted to learn how to hack, and at least know I can say I know the overview of some things.

What bugged me the most was the characters. I mean, I know they're 17, but still some of their actions seem stupid to me. You can't discount their passion and dedication to the cause, though, and Marcus really does have is heart in the right place. Also had some issues with the story because while Marcus's struggle against the government is important to him, I really wanted to know what was going on with the terrorists who blew up the bridge. They're never mentioned again, except as justification for the extra security (which, again, is true to life....), and I wanted to hear something about that. 

However, the missing terrorists were only an issue as the ending was coming up and I realized they hadn't shown up again. This book had a tough start, but the last half was a breeze as the government started responding to Marcus's efforts to prove them inefficient. Things escalate quickly, and it's already been proven the government has the power to do whatever they want. 

Which, I think, actually made the ending both off and right in my mind. It's not the Hollywood style - one man/small group taking down an organization - type of deal. Marcus is aware he needs help and gets it, and not from his fellow teens. It was the *right* choice, and at the same time so unexpected from how the story had been built up I couldn't help but admire Marcus for it.

So, to sum up, Little Brother was a book that hit a little too close to home on the distopian front and that's the feeling that stays with you to the point you don't know if you want keep the book, recommend it, or never see it again. 

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