Category Archives: Dystopian

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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Little Brother

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, ISBN: 9780765319852

Overview: Marcus and his friends are captured and detained by the government after a terrorist attack on San Francisco. They suspect him of having a secret online hacking presence, which he does, but cannot prove anything. So they let him go but warn him they will be watching. When Marcus gets out, his world has changed. His best friend was not released, but the government refuses to admit that they have him. The government is now monitoring everyone, through their computers and cellphones, even the toll passes that log where people travel. If someone is shown to have “abnormal” habits, they are stopped and questioned. Marcus feels violated and angry about the new state of order. So he decides to fight back the best way he knows how. Using his hacking and online networking skills. He amasses a large following and causes more work for the government while also trying to expose the injustices of this new system. But the government keeps getting closer to finding him out and Marcus doesn’t know who to trust.

Critical Evaluation: I had a hard time with this book. I really liked it, but it reminded me of how similar this is to the world we already live in. It raises really valid points on the security vs. privacy debate. Basically, how much of our privacy are we willing to give up to be safe? And do these new policies actually make us safer, or just more afraid? Doctorow raises really interesting issues in this book, about a world after a catastrophic attack, the kind of mentality that can take over, and the injustices that can happen, all in the name of security. While there are voices in the book that argue in favor of increased security, like Marcus’ dad, this is never really seen as a valid opinion. As the book continues to develop, and Marcus’ dad finds out that his son was tortured in the name of this security, his opinions shift dramatically.

Characters from the government organization NSA are seen as almost villainous, getting pleasure from the torture they inflict, or at least not feeling any remorse about it. I would have liked to see more depth to these characters, but I think it is easier to demonstrate the ultimate message of the book with more clear cut good and bad characters. On the other hand, I think we see at a couple of points that Marcus starts to question some of his tactics, and wonder just where the line is between activism and attack. And that is a question that is not really addressed in this book. Maybe there is some reference to it in the sequel. Or maybe that is one the reader is left to ponder on his or her own.

Reader’s Annotation: Marcus is arrested and detained during a terrorist attack on San Francisco. He knows the government is watching him, so he decides to challenge the new culture of surveillance with a couple of tricks of his own.

Information about the author: Cory Doctorow is Canadian born. He started selling fiction when he was 17. One of the first stories was called “Craphound,” hence the name of his website.  He has a comic character based on him (perhaps the ultimate honor)! He is featured in the webcomic xkcd and flies around in a hot air balloon in the blogosphere wearing a red cape and goggles.

He is well known as one of the founders of the popular blog BoingBoing. Forbes Magazine named him one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers.” He now lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Dystopian

Curriculum ties, if any: This would tie into discussions about civil liberties and technology.

Booktalking Ideas: Teens should be aware of privacy issues we are having on a national level already, and surely have strong opinions about their own privacy. So I would emphasize that part of the book. I think a lot would also appreciate the mischievous, prankster nature of some of the things that Marcus does.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Because of the violence, language, and sexual situations, I think this is a better read for an older teen.  School Library Journal recommends this book for grades 10 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Language
  • Sexual situations
  • Drug Use

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

Violence is a central part of this book, and liable to make a fair number of people uncomfortable. The detailed descriptions of torture and predatory security tactics fit that description. Again, as we’ve said before, teens do experience this situation in real life, therefore, it is important for it to be represented in literature. And this book has definite potential to help teens think about what they would do in a similar circumstance.

Why did you include this book? : This was one of the required reads for the class, and unfortunately one of the only books I think I read that could be considered science fiction.

Reference Page:

Cory Doctorow. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow

Cory Doctorow author page. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

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Black Helicopters

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston ISBN: 9780763661465

Plot Summary: Valkyrie White has lost both her parents to the black helicopters sent by the government. Now it is up to her and her brother, Bo, to carry on their father’s mission and spread his message to the world. That message is strapped to her chest in the form of an explosive. Though flashes through time, from times with her dad, to the night before, and the day she drives around looking for a target, we see a picture of her life, and the world she lives in where the government is the enemy and there are very few you can truly trust.

Critical Evaluation: This was a somewhat difficult book to wrap my brain around. Chapters and linear segments are short and sometimes only add to the confusion. This structure of weaving through time and types of information seems to be designed to get the reader into the mindset of Valkyrie. She has been taught from an early age to have a certain mindset, that of distrust of the government and self-subsistence. I do have to say that this format makes it somewhat difficult to get into this book. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a reluctant reader because of that. However, for a reader who is willing to do a little fitting of puzzle pieces, it is an enjoyable read.

And though the language is sparse, again, I think this is intentional and actually does more to paint an accurate setting. I think this use of language is more economical and discerning. This is not a book where the author is paid by the word or page count. It’s somewhere in between a short story and novel, which I guess could be considered a novella. Either way, the length and the stream of conscious style could make it harder to get to know the characters. However, I have no trouble seeing the setting of this book, or understanding each character’s motivations.

Reader’s Annotation: The Black Helicopters took away Valkyrie and Bo’s parents. Now she’s got a message for them of her own, strapped to her chest.

Information about the author: Blythe Woolston currently lives in Billings, Montana. She spends her time compiling indexes for nonfiction texts as well as writing YA fiction. Her first novel, The Freak Observer, won the William C. Morris debut fiction award.

At one time, she planned on studying nursing, but switched to English. In the past she has also been a university teacher, and worked on the publishing process of computer manuals.

Genre: Dystopian, Survival Stories

Curriculum ties, if any: This might be an interesting book to read in relation to talking about suicide bombers, or those with anti-government beliefs.

Booktalking Ideas: I think for this book, I would highlight how short the book is, but also that there is a lot going on in such a small book. The story moves around from the past to the present, but all present action takes place in about a day and a half, so it kind of feels like 24, except from the opposite perspective. 24 might be too old of a reference though, so I would look for something more current to compare it to.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  The descriptions of violence and occasional coarse language suggest that this is better suited to an older reader. Also, the main character is 15. School Library Journal recommends this book for readers in 9th grade and up, and Publisher’s Weekly for reader’s 14 years old and older.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence, especially suicide bombings
  • language

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

I think could promote more understanding between different sets of beliefs. I don’t know many books that look at the world from the perspective of a suicide bomber, so I think this would incite some really interesting discussions. It could be very controversial, but I do think that a greater understanding of this perspective might have benefits not just for the individual reader, but our society as a whole.

Why did you include this book? : It received very good reviews, and is totally different than most of the other books I read.

Reference Page:

Ren Suma, N. (February 16, 2012). Turning points: Odd duck by Blythe Woolston. Distraction No. 99. Retrieved from http://distraction99.com/2012/02/16/turning-points-odd-duck-by-blythe-woolston-giveaway/