Book Review: Little Brother

This book was enjoyable on so many levels. It's a story about Marcus, a 17-year-old techno-geek in San Francisco. One day he ditches school with some buddies and they get caught in the chaos of a terrorist attack. The four kids get detained by Homeland Security and Marcus gets the Gitmo treatment because he acts like a little tool in typical teenager fashion. Once released, he basically declares war on the Department of Homeland Security and sets out for revenge.

Marcus is the narrator and he often pauses to share quick lessons on programming, mathematics, privacy, cryptography and other technological wisdom. The idea that teenagers think they know everything just might have some truth to it, at least nowadays. These lessons are brilliant, not boring. I was inspired to check into a fact about cryptology. Starting on page 267, Marcus tells the reader:
It's unbelievable today, but there was a time when the government classed crypto as a munition and made it illegal for anyone to export or use it on a national security grounds. Get that? We used to have illegal math in this country.
The author included sex, relationships, drugs and other parts of youth that ring of rebellion, but Doctorow never stops having fun. It grasped the awkwardness of the teenage years and their familiar, clumsy feel. The novel shares a quality found in most young adult books - high reading pace. Even though I'm not a teenager, I could still relate to the story because I consider myself a Millennial.

While it reminded me of my youth it also made me feel old. I'm 26. I should not feel old. However, it gives me perspective on those that are older than myself, because frankly I don't know squat about technology compared to the lil' techno-geeks growing up right now. Seriously. I have two degrees and I couldn't hack my way out of a wet paper bag.

Speaking of hacking, this book has also shed some light on hackers' thinking. It doesn't explain ALL hacking activities, but it looks at hacking through the lens of rebellion, which I thought was an interesting and enlightening concept. Further, the story supports how important hackers really are to protecting privacy. I know that sounds contradictory, but if you can hack it than you know how to prevent others from hacking it.

It was so refreshing to FINALLY read about modern day technology in a book for once. Yeah, Sinclair, Koestler and Marquez can pull at my heart strings and boggle my mind, but can they work a BlackBerry??? No.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that this is a fine piece of literature that deserves honors and awards. It's a young adult book. It doesn't have killer plot twists, thorough character development and seamless dialogue. No, what made this book for me was the perspective of a young person dealing with the post-9/11, terrorism witch-hunt world that we live in. I could actually hear myself asking the same questions that the characters asked themselves. It brought back the troubling thoughts pounding my brain following 9/11.

People say that this is a modern 1984 and I understand why they think that, but 1984 is a superior novel.

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