In the wake of a near-future terrorist attack, some teens run afoul of the Department of Homeland Security—and become American revolutionaries in the process. Cory Doctorow’s novel, one of three YA books nominated for best novel at this year’s Hugo Awards, also serves as a primer of sorts.

Title: Little Brother

Author: Cory Doctorow
ISBN: 0765319853, 9780765319852
First published: 2008.

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Premise:

In the very near future, terrorists strike San Francisco. A group of teen hackers who happen to be near the site find themselves guests of Homeland Security in an America too ready to treat its constitution like a piece of paper. As a result of their experiences, some of them orchestrate a response that grows larger than they originally imagined.

High Points:

Little Brother manages to be both a suspenseful YA thriller and a primer on any number of useful things: hacking, cryptography, security, internet anonymity, surveillance, and arphids. It explains why we might be too paranoid about things that have little chance of affecting us and not paranoid enough about some very real dangers. It tells you how to detect hidden cameras. (It also posits “Paranoid Linux,” which, thanks to this book, is now in development). As with many classic SF books, I am willing to overlooks flaws in Little Brother because it can get people thinking.

Low Points:

The aforementioned strength also manages to be a serious weakness. Too much of the story gets dragged down by straightforward explanation of these topics, and too much didacticism.

Doctorow has written a passable YA novel, but it lacks the ageless quality of Gaiman’s Graveyard Book. This reads like a YA novel, circa 2008. It’s very straightforward, its protagonist is precocious and ideologically pure beyond belief, its dialogue too preciously after-school-special-hip, its ending too perfect, and the love story and accompanying sensual scenes very awkward.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. Doctorow stuffs several interesting ideas and YA conventions into a fairly formulaic techno-thriller.

Imagery: 5/6:

Story: 4/6. The premise kept me interested. It needed more unexpected twists. The ending we have to take with consideration of the intended audience and, to be honest, it provides a certain satisfaction.

Characterization: 4/6. Characterization in the novel is uneven. Marcus’s father makes for an interesting study, and the teachers are amusing parodies of familiar types. Ange reads like pure wish-fulfillment for a protagonist who has a serious touch of the Mary-Sue. The villains are caricatures.

Emotional Response: 4/6 I found the story featured some moving moments, particularly when it showed the personal effects of a country turned against its own citizens. Consider the latter glimpses of Darryl, for example. Marcus’s reactions as he realizes his father supports Homeland Security seem scarily real.

Editing: 4/6. This book contains some amusing turns of phrase and interesting exposition, but stylistically, it requires reworking.

Overall score: 5/6. In spite of its flaws, I find myself recommending this to teenagers I know.

In total, Little Brother receives 29/42