Both frightening and light-hearted, Cory Doctorow's 2008 novel Little Brother hearkens back to George Orwell's 1984. The main character is seventeen-year-old Marcus Yallow. Doctorow creates a world for Marcus and his friends that blends current technology with believable futuristic gadgetry in a San Fransisco in the near future.
After convincing his friend Darryl to skip school, Marcus and Darryl meet up with Vanessa (Van) and Jose Luis (Jolu) to continue their Internet-based scavenger hunt game Harajuku Fun Madness. As they are looking for their next clue, terrorists attack the Bay Bridge and the BART. Amid the confusion, Darryl is stabbed and all four friends are taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
After three days of interrogation by Carrie Johnstone (whom Marcus calls Severe Haircut Woman), Marcus, Van, and Jolu are released. They are forced to sign documents saying they were willingly held and questioned. Dazed by his humiliating ordeal and psychological torture, Marcus goes home, makes up an excuse as to where he's been and withdraws to his world of technology and paranoia.
The fact that Darryl is still missing is the main motivator for Marcus to fight back against the DHS. Using encrypted wi-fi connections, his XBox and his techno-knowledge, he creates an underground network of teenagers and twenty-somethings to fight against the DHS and the police state San Fransisco has become.
Amid his plotting, Marcus engages in several arguments with his father about whether the DHS is violating the freedoms of the American people. Marcus also meets another techno-geek, Angela (Ange), who becomes his co-conspirator and love interest.
This book discusses many questions raised in the post-9/11 world: can and should we sacrifice freedom for security? How much is too much to keep our country safe? Written during the Bush administration, Doctorow treats these subjects delicately, but provides enough material to promote discussion. He also deftly combines modern and futuristic elements, contemporary teenage issues, and connections to past events, namely the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Some reviewers claim the book is bogged down with technological explanations; while true, it is not possible to say how Doctorow could have written this book without explaining the technology Marcus and his friends use.