Little Brother by Cory Doctorow was published in 2008 and, although it discusses computer technology that is now dated, it still has relevance today. It is a book intended for young adults and has teenaged characters who find ways to challenge and disrupt their dystopian world.
Marcus is a tech-savvy seventeen-year-old who has figured out ways to subvert his school’s surveillance systems. For example, the cameras recognize and record the ways in which the students walk, and they track any student who leaves the building when they shouldn’t. To fool them, Marcus puts pebbles in his shoes to change his gait.
He has friends online and in person who share his distrust of adult supervision and control, and with whom he plays role-playing games. Their expertise in both technology and role-playing become essential when their lives are dramatically altered by a terrorist attack. Marcus is with some of his friends in San Francisco when the attack takes place, and they are all taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, these young people are suspected of treason and are taken to a secret location and subjected to interrogation techniques that amount to torture. When the DHS eventually releases them, Marcus’ best friend Darryl does not come out.
When he gets home after several days in prison, he realizes his parents thought he had died in the terrorist attack. No-one had told them where he was. It begins to dawn on Marcus that he is now living in a police state. In their response to terrorism, the police and security forces have begun treating their own citizens as if they are, potentially, the enemy. Marcus begins to find ways to challenge that notion and to try to find Darryl.
It isn’t hard to see the parallels between the events in this story and those of 9/11, and this book challenges the idea that safety and security necessitate draconian measures. It recognizes the dangers of putting too much power into the hands of politicians and soldiers who are willing to take away human rights in the name of national security. It is disturbing to realize that these concerns are still very much with us today.
Doctorow has created a world in which young people have agency and understand the need for social activism to maintain civil liberties. After all, who better to challenge authority than teenagers?
Yes, young minds not bogged down with our barriers can and have, created amazing, useful things for us! Too much power exerted in the name of safety is a concern, to be sure.
Teenagers fearlessness has its virtues!