Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, is billed as a “Young Adult” Novel. And so it is. But, like several other “Young Adult” adults, it is worth reading by not-so-young adults. This is an homage to 1984 — hence the title — set in the current world of technology, teenage hackers, and paranoia about national security. The fundamental conflict is between the Department of Homeland Security and a 17-year-old wiz named Marcus, who initially goes by the handle of W1nst0n (no coincidence there) and soon becomes M1k3y. Doctorow, who may or may not be related to E.L. Doctorow, has made the novel available for free download, although in my case I checked the excellent audiobook version out of the library.
Anyway, I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who is interested in politics, technology, education, and their intersections. Marcus is an engaging and believable protagonist, whose conflict with the DHS forms the central theme of the novel. The idea of a teenage hero who successfully fights the establishment is, of course, not new to science fiction, but Doctorow handles it with particular skill and interest. The novel is particularly authentic in its depiction of cryptography, Internet security, and other technical matters — but it still makes a convincing account to those who are not entranced by such topics. As a teacher, of course, I was particularly taken by the issues that Marcus’s school had with him, and by the San Francisco school district’s attempt to fire his social studies teacher, who was only attempting to teach the class about the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights (subversive documents, of course). The result is a somewhat chilling but ultimately convincing tale. Do read it!