Marcus and his buddies sneak out of school to work on the next clue to a game they play called Harajuku Fun Madness. Unfortunately, the end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time when terrorists set off a bomb in San Fransisco. While running for cover in a subway station, Marcus’ best friend Darryl gets knifed and they quickly change course to try to find help. After many failed attempts at hailing down passing cars, one official looking vehicle stops. Marcus thinks they are finally about to get help, but he’s wrong. Bags are thrown over their heads and they are hauled off to a place unknown where they are split up and interrogated. At first Marcus plays it cool, like he does when confronted by any authority figure; he knows his rights and he’s not talking unless his lawyer is present. These officials aren’t playing by the same rules and laws that Marcus knows. They humiliate him and interrogate him until he will give them practically anything they ask for. Now all he wishes is to be released and allowed to return to his family.
Marcus gets his wish but it is a mixed blessing. He is told he must never tell anyone where he has been or what he has been through, not even to his parents, or “they” will come and get him. All of his friends are released with him except Darryl. No one knows what happened to Darryl. He could be dead if his wound was never properly cared for. And the San Fransisco Marcus knows and loves is very different. Everyone and everything is so careful monitored by the Department of Homeland Security, the very people, Marcus realizes, who picked up and interrogated him and his friends, and no one is allowed any of the personal freedoms expected by citizens of the United States. Marcus decides to wage a rebellion in the only way he knows how, by hacking and scamming and jamming the electronic systems used by DHS.
And this is just the beginning! Marcus’ revolution grows and though he often questions whether or not he is doing is the right thing, he believes that something must be done to restore freedom to the people of San Fransisco. In his own words:
You can’t get anything done by doing nothing. It’s our country. They’ve taken it from us. The terrorists who attacked us are still free–but we’re not. I can’t go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself. (334)
Reaction: Wow. Seriously one of the best books I read this year. I was completely hooked because I was so freaked out. Sadly, I could see everything talked about in the book as a possibility for our future. For example, one of the main things that drives Marcus crazy after he is released is the way the DHS tracked people using their subway or EZPasses (called different things in the book). These passes were practically mandatory for any commuter if they wanted to travel in a timely manner. Every time someone went across a bridge or used public transportation, his or her account was registered. But there were also points all across the city that would pick up the signals of these different passes and track a persons movements everywhere. The authorities used math to find patterns in people’s travels and pulled them over for questioning if the patterns registered as abnormal. This made me think about red light cameras. Around Cincinnati there has been some buzz about the ACLU opposing red light cameras because they didn’t want the authorities to be tracking where people were going. I originally scoffed at this because, seriously, the funds for the local police are so low I don’t think there is any way they are going to spend time using the cameras to track the movements of every random joe schmo in the city. But now I’m thinking, is this just the beginning? I mean, the police have even less money than when the issue was first brought up and probably the idea is still more good than harmful, but what will it lead to? Now I am completely paranoid but I think in a good way.
Besides the crazy techno revolution stuff, Marcus deal with regular teenage stuff as well. He has trouble connecting with his dad after the terrorist attack. When Marcus didn’t come home right away, his dad completely freaked out and now is totally supportive of all the DHS measures to “keep everyone safe”. This makes Marcus upset and angry because he’s seen first hand the lengths the DHS will go in the name of anti-terror measures. Also, Marcus gets a girlfriend who is equally as smart and motivated as he is. His relationship was a great and completely unexpected element (for me, at least) to the story. Some of the technology description and background got a bit heavy and I found myself skimming or skipping those parts but it didn’t detract from the overall awesomeness of the book.
Bottomline, I think this is really a must read for my generation, for generations after mine, really for everyone. Some of us can be pretty apathetic (myself included) when it comes to fighting for political measures we think are wrong or defending our constitutional rights. Little Brother gives a glimpse of how things could be and certainly made me look at the world in a slightly different way. Questions are good. Debate is good. Don’t let those things be taken away.
P.S. I originally started listening to this on audiobook and the reader was very good so I would definitely recommend checking the audio out.