Category Archives: Science Fiction

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

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

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adoration of jenna fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson ISBN: 9780805076684

Plot Summary: Jenna has just woken up from a very long coma. She can’t remember what her life was like before, but this life seems odd. Her parents have moved her cross country to a house in the country and don’t really want her leaving the house. They’ve given her movies to watch of her childhood so she can remember, but that Jenna doesn’t really seem like the same person. And Jenna has nagging memories of her two friends, and something horrible that happened to them. Slowly the pieces come together and reveal the puzzle of Jenna’s past, and what she has become.

Critical Evaluation: I find myself returning, once again to look at the element of character in this book. It would appear that this batch of books I’ve read has more to do with character than anything else. But for “The Adoration of Jenna Fox,” it only seems natural. There is certainly conflict and a plot and setting in this book, but the big question is: who is Jenna Fox? The book is written in first person, which allows us a closer look at Jenna’s feelings and how she perceives the rest of the world. Unlike most other teens, Jenna has to relearn how to walk and eat, so some of the story relates to those basic skills most of us take for granted. While Jenna’s experiences are to an extreme, I’d guess that many teens share some of the feelings of alienation, confusion, and urge for more freedom that Jenna feels. So, even though she is quite different from most teens, the reader develops a connection with her through the universal elements of her struggle.

I will do my best not to reveal the twist of this book, but I did want to talk about the ethical issues brought up in this book. Some ethical gray areas are revealed to be at play in this story, and contrasting opinions about these areas are presented by different characters in the book. Writing about it now, I could see how it would feel sort of like an opposing viewpoints paper, but while reading this book, it did not feel forced at all. It felt like a natural progression, and a very real question that readers will be pondering for some time after finishing this book.

Reader’s Annotation: Jenna’s been in a coma and can’t remember anything from the past. So why are her parents hiding her away, and why doesn’t she feel like the girl she thinks she was before?

Information about the author: Mary Pearson was born in 1955 in Southern California. She was a storyteller from the start. Each morning, she would adopt a different persona and only respond when called by that name.

She was encouraged in her writing by many of her teachers along the way, which led to some time as an elementary school teacher. She studied Art for her bachelor’s from Long Beach State University, and got her teaching credentials from San Diego State University. She now writes full time and lives with her husband and two golden retrievers. She has two grown daughters.

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum ties, if any: This book raises some interesting ethical questions related to the medical industry that could be beneficial to discuss.

Booktalking Ideas: This is a very mysterious book, which I think can help lend some excitement to talking about it. Jenna finds herself with a lot of questions throughout the book, and can tell that her parents are not providing all the answers. It might be interesting to bring up some of those questions and see if teens have any guesses. For example, Jenna is said to walk kind of funny, and her fingers don’t lace together properly. Why would that be? Or what reason would Jenna’s parents have for moving her across the country, away from the work and lives of both of her parents?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Jenna is seventeen years old, and confronts ideas that will be better understandable for older teens. School Library Journal recommends it for grades 8 and up, and Publisher’s Weekly for ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Bioethical issues
  • 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.

As with “Little Brother,” this book brings up a scenario that is not too far off from where we are today. From a recreational standpoint, I think teens will be engrossed in the story, waiting to find out more about Jenna and her past. From a more educational standpoint, this book can provide a basis for thinking about our own futures, and what we believe is right and wrong. It does not really encourage a decision in either direction, so I’d think people of varying beliefs could draw from it what they will.

Why did you include this book? : It came highly recommended, and helps me to balance out my collection in the science fiction area.

Reference Page:

Pearson, M.E. (2012). About Mary. Mary E. Pearson website. Retrieved fromhttp://www.marypearson.com/about-mary.html