Monday, August 02, 2010

Little Brother (by Cory Doctorow)

A YA book that should have worked for me, but didn't. It's a book I've been hearing about for years (mostly via John Scalzi, because I think they shared some award nominations) so I was eager to pick it up. I also used to be way into hacking subculture, believe it or not--I read 2600 constantly when I was a teenager, thanks to a best friend who was way way way into hacking and crypto back in the Internet Dark Ages.

Anyway, I just want to make it clear that it wasn't that it is "too techy" or anything like that. My problem is that it's just too didactic. The narrative frequently stops for lectures or info dumps from the narrator, his teacher, and other characters. And the torture stuff and political stuff is way over the top--the bad guys are just Evil (even his classmate is ridiculously over the top; he's practically Lord Voldemort by the third act), with no nuance; the good guys are just Good. And the message is so loud and clear that it left me seriously wanting some subtlety. About something.

It's super political, and I'm as big an Obama fan as the next person, but the concepts that the reader is being lectured on and the developments we're expected to buy into are just ridiculous (a 17-year-old getting waterboarded? So we really understand that Torture Is Wrong? Even though he's already been tortured earlier in the book?. It feels like satire that doesn't know it's satire, or something.

As a result of all this, the characters never feel real, and I found myself disappointed. It's not a terrible book--I can see why many people love it, especially teens who don't know a ton about civil liberties or hacking or whatnot. And I do agree with its message. And he gets the Bay Area right on; tons of details and descriptions that were fun to read, as a Bay Area person myself. But I wanted real characters I could care about, and situations that didn't feel like complete contrivances. I've read a ton of excellent, excellent YA lately (thank you John Green), and Little Brother was just a letdown.


Blogger SarahJanet said...

Aw, too bad! I really liked this book. I think reading it while I was in the Bay Area helped a lot, and it just got me in the right mood. I read it pretty superficially, though, mostly thinking about the location more than anything else. Which was exactly what I needed, because setting is probably the weakest part of my own writing.

2:03 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

To his credit, he really did do an amazing job with the setting. He got the Bay Area just right, from the burritos in the Mission down to the 880 overpass near the Oakland Coliseum. So I agree with you there!

2:04 PM  

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