Tuesday, April 29, 2008

reviewing little brother.

As Cory Doctorrow's book, Little Brother, is coming out today, I figure today's as good a day as any to review the book.

First and foremost it was a good read. This book is perfect for a lot of the kids around the age that I teach, especially the ones who are already into the idea (and reality) of technology as a part of their life. The reality is that things will probably be a lot like the future presented in the book, but in ways completely different than as they're presented. We never know which way they're going to jump, so a lot of the stuff that was in there (the continuation of ARGs, the RFID everywhere, the gait-recognizers [sidenote just to say that I found it hilarious in the press package they sent me that gait-checkers was misspelled gate-checkers. Isn't that what we have editors for? Anyway...] and the omni-present cameras, etc.) I do believe will be a hallmark of our future, but I don't think we'll be able to call how it'll be there with anything resembling accuracy.

The second set of students that it's perfect for are intelligent ones. To be frank, a lot of the less intelligent students have not yet (and will never) think about this sort of stuff. They'll be the Name Here of the book, who delights in ratting out the people who are actually taking care of the world for them. So, ya know, that's not exactly a great thing. However, I'm a big fan of recognizing differences and just going ahead and acknowledging them, so there's not necessarily a problem with me that this book is clearly written with an intelligent audience in mind. (In fact, if anything, I'm upset that more books aren't written in this style! If they're going to accuse us of being elitist, why can't we just embrace the fact that, yes, we are generally smarter?)

The third target audience seems to me to be implicitly implied in the last paragraph: kids who are already leaning toward a liberal attitude. While this would seem like a no-brainer, just based on who Doctorrow is and where the book's coming from, etc. it really doesn't take hold until you start to read some of the crazy accounts in the narrative. I agree just as much with the next die-hard liberal about some of the troubling turns our country can take when we sacrifice a little privacy for security, but sometimes it was hard to read.

It made me really angry. It made me hope and pray that nothing like this ever happens. And it made me worry that things like this already are happening, we just don't know about them.

Finally, just a handful of criticisms: I did find a few typos, which really aren't a big deal, but as mentioned before regarding the press release, I'd think that books like this (and the extraneous material therein) would be checked pretty heavily. Secondly, I thought it made a lot less sense with the title and the obvious ties to 1984 to have the narrator's name start as w1n5t0n and end as m1k3y, when it easily could have been switched. If the purpose is to inspire further education along several lines, one of those lines so clearly being Orwell's novel (the acknowledgments in the back read like a primer for the future according to Doctorrow), then we should have been able to read about Winston all novel - not Mikey. Lastly, I wish the proles would have warranted a stronger mention. I've spoken already to the "liberal elitist" argument - yes, we're elitist because we're supposed to be smarter, but that doesn't include counting people out. Where are all the "average folk" in this book?

The bottom line, however, is that this is a book that I would (and already did so and will continue to do so) recommend to any bright student of mine, as well as all the intelligent adults I know. The novel works on a lot of different levels, and we could all benefit from a refresher on Orwell's masterpiece; no matter what form it takes.

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