Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Little Brother

So, I just finished Cory Doctorow's new book, Little Brother. Though it's a teen-adult title, I thought I'd post a mini-review of the book since I was so swept away by it. I'm not generally a fan of science-fiction or futuristic novels, though I loved last year's Pulizter The Road (which I recommend to everyone! Charity at the ACLA office is reading it right now and can't put it down!) So when I kept running into stellar reviews of this book, I thought I should check it out. Additionally, I'm pretty picky when it comes to my summer reading, a little like Goldilocks, the book has to be just right. And I admittedly judge a book by some of its initial paragraphs. So a science fiction book by an author known for his techie writing on the infamous blog Boing Boing? I had little hope.

I was caught after the first few sentences:
I'm a senior at Cesar Chavez high in San Francisco's sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world. My name is Marcus Yallow but back when this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n. Pronounced 'Winston.'
I can't say exactly what caught my attention, but I guess it was the fact that this senior in high school was one of the most surveilled people in the world and well, that's a good lead-in. Doctorow had me in the perfect position. I was intrigued.

When I came to work after finishing the book, I uttered the phrase (and I was in the middle of that highly lit-up post-book glow) this one will bring out your inner geek! Several co-workers shared their lack of this supposed 'inner-geek' but I'm convinced we all have one- some more high-tech than others. Those reading this might not be a bit surprised to find I have an inner-geek. Of course, my geekiness is more outward than inward in this position. Currently, I'm ensconced in learning a new CMS (content management system) called Drupal. (you'll be reaping the benefits of that techie-journey soon!) So I'm a geek at heart. But let me say, this book is for non-geeks as well. Doctorow does an amazing job of sprinkling an exciting, fast-paced narrative with some really gripping factoids about technology, most of which already exists in some form today.

But the book's heart isn't technology exactly, it's government and fear. Very timely subjects in light of our post 9/11 culture in America. I found myself quite scared during certain passages including events that were either happening to some extent already (wide-spread wire-tapping?) or I could picture happening easily within my lifetime. I'm a staunch supporter of the people's right to privacy and we've already had a cultural shift in the perception of what's off-limits and what's not. And Doctorow allows those kinds of tricky questions to bubble up in a mix of some pretty likable and interesting characters. (I can imagine having a crush on Marcus in high school myself!)

The book even inspired some conversation at the recent ALA Conference in Anaheim. Doctorow himself attended a panel discussion called Privacy: Is it Time for a Revolution? If you don't already realize it, privacy is a huge issue for libraries. ALA even snagged library tech-guru, Jessamyn West of Librarian.net blog fame to ask her about her thoughts after the panel.

So, I loved the book, but I love even more, the conversations it's starting. This would be a great title for my dream book club of children's librarians. Anyone interested?