A while back I read and reviewed Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother. I’d been meaning to get around to Little Brother, and its pick as San Francisco’s One City One Book gave me the push that I needed.
Little Brother takes place in a present day, slightly dystopian version of San Francisco (these is more obvious surveillance, tracking, blind patriotism, and privacy breaches). The premise is that terrorists have blown up the Bay Bridge, and our teenage narrator and his friends just so happen to be ditching school Downtown when it happens. In the wrong place at the wrong time, they get arrested and jailed & abused in a secret prison on Angel Island. Our narrator Marcus gets out and basically starts a secret internet and technology-based revolution.
Like Homeland, the really big strengths of this book are in the political messages. They are about the stifling prevalence of surveillance, the problems of illegal secret imprisonment of innocent people, and the importance of privacy. The story was ok, and it’s clear that effort was put into making the characters human, but it honestly seemed more like padding for all of the exciting concepts presented. Actual timing and events in the narrative felt kind of dizzy and lumpy. Ultimately, it was the action and the politics that moved me through the book. If anything, this exciting and thematically important book will make you want to re-check your privacy settings…
The author took care of a lot in 310 pages!
Modern-day teenage Mallory feels like her life is falling apart when she dumps her boyfriend after learning that he’s been cheating on her with another girl on the internet. In this same spot of time, she finds a list of goals that her grandmother made as a teenager. The brief list included items such as “run for pep squad secretary,” “find a steady,” and “sew a dress for homecoming.”
Floored by the simplicity of these goals, and assuming that life “back then” must have been much better in its apparent simplicity, Mallory decides that her own life needs some simplifying, and makes the goal to do everything on her grandmother’s list. Oh, and to live as much like her grandmother did in the 1960’s as possible, and avoid using all modern electronics until homecoming, which is a few weeks away.
This book was great! Mallory and the other characters had plenty of dimension, there was a hearty nod to thrift stores and vintage fashion (which I was happy about), and the background family drama/mystery was interesting enough to keep me reading– but not overwhelming enough to cloud the story. It’s definitely a book for teenagers (especially for digital natives who were born in the age of the internet and cell phones), but it’s unique and multidimensional enough to be an entertaining diversion for a YA-loving adult.
Find a copy at your nearest library
My life kind of exploded for a while, and I was pretty much not reading. There was lots of school work, one epically awful day, and a whole bunch of work stuff. My spring break officially started yesterday, so I can relax and get my life back into the realm of awesomeness (and ideally design a way to keep my life from exploding again). Onto the good stuff:
Confession: I read this book because it includes lots of references to Noisebridge, a place where I go fairly often.
Homeland is a follow-up to Little Brother, which I have not read. Homeland has a Sci-Fi feel (but this shit’s real) with an action adventure edge, with a little nonfiction thrown into the fiction. I have a weirdo librarian fantasy about talking to the author about how he feels about the categorization of his book as YA Fiction. This is entirely possible, as we can both sometimes be found in the same places (see above).
So Marcus’s life has finally chilled out after a massive super-hacker political adventure in the previous book (he, like, saved lives and got kidnapped and got hacker-famous and stuff), and he’s having the time of his life at Burning Man with his girlfriend. And then in the middle of the fun, he encounters and old nemesis who hands him a flash drive filled with lots of really explosive political information, and his new found calm is pretty much instantly blasted into a million pieces.
I was a little slow getting into the book, but after about 75 pages, I got addicted.
The narrative is atypical. Detailed technical explanations of different (real life and sometimes similar to real-life) things (in the voice of the narrator) frequently punctuate the story (I really liked the instructions for making cold brewed coffee and some of the political stuff– but some of the technical explanations were way over my head and I merely skimmed them in pursuit of returning to the narrative). Marcus is supposed to be 19 and super awesome– but his worldly knowledge is a little bit unbelievable (yet still inspirational). The subject matter is all very contemporary (and rooted in real life)– so having your good pal Google at your side will help you make your way through the information-rich text (Also, there’s TONS of tech-talk. google it, and you’ll be mostly ok). I found that I was less-impressed with the story (I don’t think it was unpredictable enough), and more impressed with all of the details that surrounded it. Some kind of super-modern interactive ebook version of this book would be awesome.
Maybe I was simply emerging from my aforementioned funk– but as I was finishing the book I felt energized. I got back into the EFF. I started thinking about how workshops on internet security and intellectual freedom could work at the library. I got angry again about messed up government stuff. It was good.
Also, there’s a really, really chilling afterword written by Aaron Swartz at the end. It’s kind of important to read if you care about intellectual freedom.
Check it out at your library