A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this science-fiction version of a not so distant future contains heavy graphic violence. Children are forced into sweatshops and are recruited and united online, but form real-world armies that attack and fight back, killing as necessary in an exciting quest for social justice. The depictions of contemporary life in the poor parts of China and India may shock teen readers who are not aware that similar poverty exists in this country. Parents could read this book to gain an understanding of the attractions that video gaming has for kids, the friendships built in the online communities, the interdependence and loyalties, and the inherent rewards built into the games that keep them playing. The global appeal and the merger of the virtual and real world experiences that many kids experience also comes to life here.
What's the story?
Mala is a 15-year-old gamer in India, Matthew has become his own boss in China through his gaming skills, and 16-year-old Leonard is facing an intervention in California because his parents believe he is addicted to gaming. They have many things in common even though they have never met: they are all connected through the multiple player online games they love, each of them is brilliant, and each has the idealistic conviction of the young -- that life should be good, and fair. For all. Before they know it, they've been recruited to use their gifts for a greater good. The lines are blurred between real and virtual worlds as gold farmers and factory girls alike are joining the cause, masterminded by the enigmatic Big Sister Nor, hiding somewhere beyond the Internet. Can they make the Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web a reality? The corporate world will do anything to stop them, and Mala, Matthew, and Leonard find themselves and their new friends caught up in a revolution. Murder and intrigue mean that only some of them will survive.
Is it any good?
Fast-paced with brilliant and likable characters from all over the globe, even non-gamers will fall into this idealistic and multilayered tale of a brave new world. Readers who enjoyed Little Brother will enjoy this new geek revolution, if they don't find it overly long. Doctorow has a tendency to speak directly to the reader in brief lectures to explain Ponzi schemes or economic theories, which may annoy many of his readers who undoubtedly already understand such concepts.
But his strong female characters and sympathetic boys like Leonard and Lu make it all worthwhile for anyone who has ever played a multiuser video game and felt the thrill of being one part of a larger whole, or been inspired by the possibilities offered by the new world technology.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether video games are addicting. How would one know they were spending too much time online? Do you think Leonard was addicted?
There is some mention of the dangers lurking online in multiuser games. What kinds of rules keep kids safe online and in those games?
Life for the teens in India and China is very different in this book than it is for most teens in this country. Are there teens in the U.S. that are living in similar circumstances to Mala and Matthew, for example?
What were some of the similarities you noticed in the family life depicted?
Was Leonard right to lie to his mother and to travel illegally to China? Does the end justify the means? Would your parents be proud of you if you did something like that? Can you think of real heroes from history that were teens?
For kids who love fantasy and action
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.