Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Tor Teen
Date: April 2008
ISBN-10: 0765319853

Plot Summary: Marcus Yallow is a senior at Cesar Chavez High School in San Francisco.  He’s technologically savvy and can easily trick the several surveillance systems at the school into not recognizing him, which makes it easy for him to leave in the middle of the day to meet up with his best friends and ARG team (that’s Alternative Reality Gaming) to play the best game ever – Harajuku Fun Madness.  The team is hunting for the first clue when they hear an explosion, everyone starts panicking, and Marcus and his friends are kidnapped by an unknown organization.

Marcus discovers that his captors are the Department of Homeland Security, who keep him locked up, repeatedly interrogate him, and treat him like a suspect of the bombing before finally releasing him with a warning that they’ll be watching him.  With the government spying on him, and his best friend still missing, Marcus launches an underground movement to strike back.  Using an encrypted web connection called Xnet, he and his followers fight the system that threatens to treat the innocent like potential terrorists.

Critical Evaluation: Doctorow’s novel is a technologically advanced thriller that will appeal to teens with a geeky side – and everyone can relate to the friendship issues and first love that Marcus experiences.  Among other things, Little Brother is a coming of age story, although most teens won’t face the same problems and enemies that Marcus and the Xnetters have to deal with!  One of the strengths of the novel is how well it describes tough concepts like Bayesian physics and cryptography in an understandable way, and makes us re-examine our understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Marcus is a great narrator because he can explain these advanced ideas so that even the average reader can understand them – in fact, a reader who is very knowledgeable about these subjects may find that portions of the book lag with too much information.  Not only a thought-provoking read about issues that we should all be concerned about, but also an exciting story!

Reader’s Annotation: When the US government imprisons Marcus, a high school geek who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and treats him like a potential terrorist, he and his friends find a way to fight back and protect their

Author Information: Cory Doctorow is a blogger, journalist, and author of several books and short stories about science fiction and blogging.  Doctorow is also the co-editor of Boing Boing, a blog that contains articles on tech, gadgets, science as well as business, entertainment, and art and design.  An activist for the Creative Commons organization, Doctorow has made his novel Little Brother available as a free download under their license.

Born and raised in Canada, Doctorow has also spent time living in London.  He married Alice Taylor in 2008 and has one daughter.

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Could be used to illustrate the importance of Constitutional Rights.

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Compare the perspectives of Ms. Galvez and Mrs. Anderson.  Do you think there are times when the Bill of Rights should be suspended?
2) Discuss surveillance and whether you personally feel safer, or just watched.
3) How does Marcus’s dad change his views throughout the novel?  Would you be willing to be questioned if it  you thought it helped find real criminals/terrorists – even if you don’t find out whether it works?
4) Do you value security or privacy more?

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sexual content, anti-government views, some violence and torture

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: Little Brother was assigned for this course, but I enjoyed reading it and think it’s a great book for older teens and particularly can be recommended for guys and readers interested in technology.


Cory Doctorow’s personal blog.

Little Brother online version.


February 25, 2010 - Posted by | Books |

1 Comment »

  1. […] Evaluation: After reading Little Brother for this course, I had high expectations for Cory Doctorow’s latest work, and I was not […]

    Pingback by For the Win by Cory Doctorow « Caroline the Future Librarian | May 10, 2010 | Reply

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