What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is a book for older teens and adults. It is a dystopian novel and features mature themes, as well as some violent scenes, including the torture of a teen. There is a non-graphic scene of teen intercourse and several graphic make-out scenes along with some moderate language and drug references. The book does laud the hacker culture (and even gives specific references for learning those skills) but it mobilizes this culture in a positive way and helps readers explore great topics like individual freedoms and privacy.
What's the story?
In the very near future, when the Bay Bridge in San Francisco is blown up by terrorists, talented teen hacker Marcus and his friends, cutting school to play a game, are arrested by Homeland Security and brutally interrogated for a week. Finally released, Marcus vows to fight the DHS, which has turned San Francisco into a virtual police state. Includes two Afterwords by tech and hacker experts, and an extensive bibliography.
Is it any good?
Whoa. This is by far the most exciting, breathtaking, mind-altering, and provocative book to come out in years. It's going to thrill teens even as it worries and disturbs some parents. Author Cory Doctorow combines his tech savvy (he is editor of Boing Boing and a former director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation), his political beliefs, and a frighteningly realistic extension of current trends to create a story that is not only impossible to put down, but is also one of those rare books that will change the way readers see the world.
It raises, in the most compelling way, issues of free speech, freedom vs. security, the rights of the government and the governed, and more. It's hard to think of another book that is so thought-provoking and at the same time such a page-turner. It should be discussed in every high school Civics and Government class -- but it probably won't be. Too bad it has that sex scene, which will mean many teachers will be unable to use it in class -- it would make an incredible discussion book.
It's that realism, both technical and political, that makes the book so exciting. Your teens are living in a brave new world, and few, if any, novels have captured that so vividly -- and few, if any, other authors have gotten the tech aspects so right: most who try just end up looking foolish. Unlike 1984, which inspired it, and most other future dystopian novels, it's all too easy to imagine the events of this book happening tomorrow. While Doctorow doesn't hedge at making his own position clear, and he makes a very convincing case, there is plenty of room for debate. But ultimately most readers will see things the author's way -- not, perhaps, just in the book, but in real life as well.
This is the kind of book that will have readers talking about it for days afterwards, that will make them see things in a new way, and that may inspire some of them to follow up on the clues and bibliography the author gives to learn more -- perhaps to some of their parents' chagrin.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about dystopian novels like Little Brother or Hunger Games. Why are these sorts of books so popular with teens right now? What can we learn from books that look at our possible futures?
Talk about some of the issues raised in the book: How much freedom are you willing to give up for security? How do we balance our rights to free speech and privacy with our need to feel safe?