Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
This book is available under Creative Commons Licenses. It does not require any payment, but the author’s site will match you up with a teacher if you’d like to buy a copy of the book to give for a school..
Download text version: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/Cory_Doctorow_-_Little_Brother.txt
Download audio version: http://www.archive.org/details/Little_Brother_by_Cory_Doctorow_MP3_audio
[A higher quality audiobook is commercially available]
Author’s website: http://www.craphound.com
The book starts with a high school student in San Francisco who uses his knowledge of technology to evade electronic monitoring in his school. However, after a terrorist attack, he and three of his friends are rounded up by the military along with many other young people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They spend several days in a secret prison being questioned. The round-up isn’t mentioned in the press and family members aren’t notified – so parents tend to think their kids have been killed in the attack. Finally, three of them are let go. They have no idea what happened to the fourth friend. The military warns them not to tell anyone what happened to them and tells them they will be watched.
Marcus doesn’t tell his parents what was done to him, but he decides to do something about the abuse of power. He uses circles of friends to get many young people to use hardware and software designed to ensure privacy and prevent surveillance. Under a pseudonym, he plays a leading role in making this protected network a place where issues of government abuses and alternative views flourish. As this becomes more successful, it becomes targeted by the government as dangerous.
He tries various ways to resist the abuses and restrictions on civil liberties, but he finds that these often have unintended consequences for others. Meanwhile, the government is slowly closing in on those who use the network and its leaders. Something different needs to be done…
This was written to be a Young Adult book, but it’s quite readable by those of us who no longer belong in that group. As someone who has seen a wide variety of government abuses – even occurring before Sept. 11, I think this is an important topic for young people to think about. I lived through the Watergate era, I lived in a city run by a “political machine” with crooked politics, I lived near a place where police hid their badges before going on a rampage, etc. Abuse of power is always a temptation to those who seek government offices even in the best of times. When events provide them with a rationale, there’s a good chance they’ll use that opportunity to go too far.
Although Cory Doctorow does not see it as the best way to deal with the problem, he is able to convey the concerns of parents and others who hope restrictions will provide security. He does not present those people as silly cartoon characters, but as people with emotional, human responses.
The book is a good read. It’s a great opportunity for those who want to help young people think beyond the “official story”. So it might be a good idea to check out the author’s site to see how you can help get this book to teachers.