Homeland

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Homeland Book Poster Image
Tense hacker adventure tackles government spying on public.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of technical information about online surveillance, hacking, digital rights, and coffee brewing. It doesn't give step-by-step instructions for flouting authority, but it could be a source of keywords for those interested in learning online the nuts and bolts of these subjects.

Positive Messages

Homeland paints a disturbing picture of post-9/11 defense and security. With good reason, Marcus and his compatriots distrust the government, the police, politicians, and the multinational corporations to which they are often beholden. Those with power in Homeland tend to abuse it. Individual citizens need to fight back, but the book makes clear that they won't always prevail, at least without some sort of compromise.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Still traumatized by the events chronicled in Little Brother, Marcus initially wants to keep a low profile, get a job, and get out from under his crippling student debt. But when he receives a cache of digital documents detailing widespread governmental and corporate malfeasance, he must decide whether he's willing to jeopardize his own safety -- and that of his friends and family. It's not a question with an easy answer, but throughout Homeland, Marcus struggles bravely and resourcefully with it, sometimes working within the law, sometimes operating at the edges of it. Marcus doesn't always make the right decision, but he always tries to stay true to his values.

Violence

Characters are kidnapped, assaulted, tased, beaten, tear-gassed, and threatened with torture. Not much bloodshed, but the villains' nonlethal tactics may disturb some sensitive readers.

Sex

Marcus is in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Ange. They often sleep over at each other's house. It's clear that they have a sexual relationship, but their intimate moments together aren't described in any detail.

Language

Occasionally strong. "D--k" and "p---y" are used as epithets in a few instances. Variations of "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," "hell," and "damn" are infrequently used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The opening chapters of Homeland are set at Burning Man, and although they don't directly describe characters using recreational drugs, it's strongly implied that they've done so. Caffeine is Marcus' stimulant of choice, and there's a lot of discussion about how to brew the strongest coffee.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Cory Doctorow's Homeland is a near-future science fiction novel that takes a very realistic approach to subjects like government surveillance, torture, and civil disobedience. In this sequel to Little Brother, the characters don't always act within the letter of the law, even though the protagonist and his friends always struggle to do what's right. The language is fairly strong, and there are a few scenes of physical violence (characters are kidnapped, assaulted, tased, beaten, tear-gassed, and threatened with torture), but there's not much bloodshed. Overall, the level of violence is less intense than in Little Brother. The main, college-age character and his longtime girlfriend have a sexually intimate relationship, though it's not presented in any detail.

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What's the story?

A few years after the events in Little Brother, former teen "hacktivist" Marcus Yallow finds himself unemployed and unable to continue his education under the burden of student loans. While at the Burning Man festival, he's given a thumb drive by two ex-compatriots, who are later kidnapped by one of their most implacable nemeses. Back in San Francisco, Marcus starts working for an idealistic state senate candidate. But he can't ignore the devastating documents he has received. Can he find a way to distribute them without imperiling his boss' campaign?

Is it any good?

HOMELAND is an engaging, thoughtful, and impassioned exploration of the ways in which technology fosters and inhibits communication and security. Though it may not have the immediacy and novelty of its predecessor, Little Brother, it still vividly addresses issues that should concern anyone who values his or her privacy.

Marcus and his rough-and-tumble hacker compatriots are an intriguing bunch, and they're pitted against some ruthless and equally resourceful villains. Author Cory Doctorow knows how to keep raising the stakes, delivering plenty of suspense without resorting to cheap plot tricks. The narration sometimes descends into jargon, but Doctorow does his best to explicate clearly the science and engineering behind the high-tech gadgetry. This is a book likely to inspire readers, to shake them up, make them mad and point them in new directions to channel that energy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how much leeway the government should be given to spy on citizens in the event of a catastrophic emergency. Is it OK if officials have critical knowledge about the situation?

  • How would you feel if the police were able to download the contents of your smartphone without a warrant?

  • How has social media changed the ways in which modern political campaigns are run?

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