Little Brother

by Cory Doctorow

I read a lot of young adult fiction these days. Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, is one of the reasons.

It’s one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time, but it isn’t an easy book to digest. It is definitely Orwellian. Readers into cyberpunk and futuristic dystopian novels will love it.

Marcus Yallow, a smart, tech savy 17 year old is used to doing pretty much whatever he wants. Then one day he and his high school friends are out tracking down clues for an online game when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge. In the immediate aftermath they are abducted by homeland security. No one knows their whereabouts while they are held prisoners, interrogated, tortured, and forced to give up their privacy and reveal all their secrets. When they are released, they are told to keep what happened to them a secret, or else.

Daryl, Marcus’ best friend, doesn’t come home.

As the power of homeland security increases, democracy disappears. San Francisco and California turn into a police state. Civil liberties are increasingly eroded. Individuals are tracked electronically, then stopped and searched for veering out of their routines.

Marcus and a group of tech savvy friends rebel. Through use of futuristic technology known as the X-box and paranoid lynix, they come up with ways to disrupt the power of homeland security.

Against this backdrop of intrigue and rebellion, Marcus meets a girl, Ange, and falls in love. As the story evolves he becomes a significant youth leader and is forced to deal with the ramifications of his power, actions and influence over others.

They are careful and think they are safe. Homeland security is already on to them.

Terrifying, suspenseful, and ominous, this is an exciting read, and educational as well. Doctorow explains how technology works in meaningful ways within the context of the story. I learned a lot about encryption, programming and the mathematics behind it all.

It is one of those books for the grade 7 shelf, and even then, I would probably be very cautious about who I recommend it too. I would give this book to Raphael and Harit to read if they were still students at the school. They reminded me that a truly engaging book that deals with important issues can be hard to read on an emotional level, but is still the best kind of book to read.

I listened to this book as a free audiobook from sync audio, but you can download the ebook here for free.
Behemoth (Leviathan, #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

If you have not read any Steam Punk yet, then start with Scott Westerfeld's Leviathon Trilogy.  It perfectly exemplifies the genre.  The only problem is that you may never be satisfied with anything else after this.

I would never have expected to be so captivated by any book about war and adventure, and yet, here I am, just finished off the second in the series and anxiously awaiting for my hold on Goliath to come in.

I just love so much about these books - the machines, the creatures, the history, the characters, the action. Scott Westerfeld has an amazing brain.

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Zoobreak by Gordon Korman (Red Cedar Book)

Zoobreak by Gordon Korman

Zoobreak is a delightful madcap romp. The group of friends from the first book, Swindle, are back again in another hilarious adventure.

In this one, Savannah’s capuchin monkey, Cleopatra, is missing and both she and her dog, Luthor, are devastated. Then on a school field trip to a floating zoo, Savannah finds Cleo trapped in a cage. Like the rest of the zoos inhabitants, Cleo’s surroundings are miserable. Savannah and her parents go through the usual legal channels, but are unable to get Cleopatra back.

Savannah is so distraught that Griffin is forced to come up with a plan to rescue Cleopatra. Each of the friends’ special talents is utilized. There are a few glitches along the way, but they make it to the zoo and manage to rescue Cleopatra. However, this is where things go awry. Savannah insists that they can’t leave the rest of the creatures in such pathetic conditions, and they end up liberating the entire zoo.

It goes from bad to worse. What do you do with 40 zoo animals? How do you hide them?

Griffin has to come up with another plan fast before the police, or even worse, the evil zoo owner, find out who they are.

It’s a wacky and delightful. I like that it is part of a series, but you don’t have to have read the first book first. It is satisfying all by itself.

This is a book for people of all ages who are looking for a fun filled plot to keep them entertained and laughing.

Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan (Red Cedar Book)

Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan

“If you can’t be beautiful, you should at least be good.” These are the words that Jameela, a young girl living in Afghanistan after the American invasion, carries with her long after her mother has gone. When her mother dies, her drug addicted and abusive father takes her away from their small village to the city of Kabul.

At first they lived in a home where Jameela was treated as a servant. Then her father disgraced himself and they were forced to leave. Then he remarried. At first, Jameela looked forward to being part of a family again. Unfortunately, her stepbrother was a good person, but her stepmother was not. First she treated Jameela as a slave. Eventually she convinced Jameela’s father to take Jameela to the market and abandon her.

Thanks to the kindness of a shopkeeper, Jameela ended up in an orphanage. Incredible as it may seem, this ends up being a very good thing. In the orphanage Jameela goes to school, learns to read, makes friends, and has surgery to repair a cleft palette.

Through it all Jameela struggles to live up to her mother’s ideal and be good. Eventually she grows into a strong independent person who realizes that she must take charge of her own life.

Based on the true story of a girl who ended up living in an orphanage sponsored by the author, this book is well written and engaging. I was drawn into the story from the first paragraph and remained completely engaged till the end. Jameela is the kind of character you can’t help but like, admire, and feel compassion for.

Walking Backward by Catherine Austin (Red Cedar Book)

Walking Backward by Catherine Austin

Josh’s mother had ophidiophobia – a terror of snakes. One summer day a snake slithered out from under her car seat. She panicked, lost control of the car, crashed into a tree, and died.

This is the story of Josh, a twelve year old boy, his four year old brother, and their father as they struggle to make sense of her death. Their psychiatrist gives them journals where they record their thoughts and feelings. This is Josh’s journal.
They cope in their own ways. Josh, a very smart kid, researches death rituals across different cultures and religions. He studies phobias. He also spends a lot of time trying to figure out how the snake got into the car. Was it put there deliberately? Was it an accident?
His father seems to have abandoned the boys. He spends time in the basement trying to build a time machine so that he can go back in time and remove the snake from the car.
This leaves Josh with the responsibility for the care of his little brother, Sammy. Sammy sleeps with Josh every night and continues to have conversations with their mother through a girl power ranger doll.
Eventually Josh and Sammy create a memory scrapbook of their mother so that they won’t forget her as they get older.
In spite of the heartbreaking topic, this book is full of many funny moments and some really great jokes. I resisted picking it up because of the topic, but once I started reading it I loved it. I loved the characters. I cried. I laughed. I couldn’t put the book down once I started. This was a very satisfying read.