Little Brother

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Little Brother Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Exciting, provocative dystopian novel will make teens think.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 25 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Touches on a number of great social studies topics -- the Bill of Rights and the Constitution; individual freedoms; terrorism; the civil rights, antiwar, and gay rights movements; the Yippies; Beatnik poetry; and much more. It also explains a lot about the world of technology and hacking: the origins of crypto, Bayesian statistics, public and private keys, and ways around various recognition software and security systems (some of this info was used for good reasons in the book, some to cut class and steal standardized tests -- and an afterward explains even more).  

Positive Messages

This book imparts the importance of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, especially having to do with personal freedoms and privacy, and the ability to stand up against an unjust system. Also, teens will get thinking about how technology can bring people together; and, of course "don't trust anyone over 25" -- a slogan meant to mobilize the young and keep them actively voicing their beliefs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marcus may be a hacker, but when his freedoms are violated he channels his know-how in positive ways and mobilizes those around him for the cause. He's someone who questions authority a lot, but in a way that's very focused on his high ideals. He has supportive parents (his mom more than his dad at first) and a good mentor in an investigative reporter.


The Bay Bridge and underwater BART tunnel are blown up by terrorists and thousands die -- teens in the story find this out days afterward, but of course are extremely affected by it. A teen is beaten and tortured, there's a graphic scene where he is waterboarded; people are trampled in crowds; reference to suicide.


One clear but non-graphic scene of teen sex with condoms used. Graphic scenes of making out. References to boners, transvestites, hookers, pimps, drag queens, and perverts.


"Ass," "mothf___er" (written just that way), a haircut is described as "dykey" plus "screw," "scrotum," "d--khead."


Soda, software, shoe, pizza, computer, video game, energy drink, supermarket, cookie, clothing, condom brands mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink beer, vodka, and whiskey to drunkenness; lead character says he likes hash brownies; reference to drug dealing, pot, ecstasy, cocaine.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 5, 9, 11, and 14-year-old Written byJamesRobertson January 4, 2009
Adult Written bygbeb March 24, 2011

Great Story. Lots to discuss. But, deal killers for our tween.

I loved this book. Doctorow creates a first person narrator whom I wanted to see succeed. But, he is seriously flawed. Doctorow clearly appreciates the compl... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byicantfindaname January 7, 2009

Very good, but adult oriented

This is an extremely good, thought provoking book that should be read along with books such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and so forth. However, the large number of... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 30, 2010

Page-turner, though the political messages are touchy and the characters aren't really pitiable.

It's okay. I really didn't care much about the characters, and it seems that the author goes through a lot of trouble to make four dimensional charact... Continue reading

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?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • 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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sci-fi

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