Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, well… It’s not your typical novel, which is why it’s no surprise that it led to an atypical film from some atypical directing siblings.

Written as a series of 6 stories nestled within each other, Matryoshka doll style, Mitchell starts us out in 1849 in the South Pacific reading the first half of Adam Ewing’s journal; introduces us to the talented young composer Robert Frobisher in 1936; follows tenacious reporter Luisa Rey around 1973 San Francisco; recounts the 2012 captivity of publisher Timothy Cavendish in an old folks home; builds the fascinating Neo Seoul of 2144, in which a genetically cloned fabricant Sonmi-451 leaves the safety of her fast food home for the world of the purebloods; and takes us all the way to 2321, where, in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, we encounter the tribesman, Zachary. And then, once Mitchell takes us to the peak of this roller coaster, giving us the entire serving of Zachary’s journey with the Prescient, he sends us shooting back down, revisiting each story again in reverse chronological order, picking up from where he left off. Each story opens and reaches a midpoint and then is abruptly interrupted by the next story. The only plot told in one full serving is that of Zachary and the Prescient he leads up the mountain, as this is the point of view the entire book is being told from. At the conclusion of Zachary’s tale the other stories are closed out in the opposite sequence they were opened in, as we come crashing down the pyramid of stories we climbed.

Mitchell’s enormous task is a wonder to behold simply as a mammoth writing exercise – as he shifts his tone from 19th century naval diary to swooning epistolary meditation to taught conspiracy thriller to cheeky prison farce to dystopian adventure and finally to the post-apocalyptic journey of two people who speak in a futuristic dialect (and, good god, as he walks it all back). The diversity of Mitchell’s writing is astounding and, yes, endlessly entertaining. There’s something for everyone here.

It is, admittedly, not the simplest story to follow, even piece by piece, let alone as a whole, but it ties together rewardingly. The shifts in genre undergird an overall interconnectedness that is stunning. In each story, one of our characters is reading about or interacting with someone from the previous tale. Robert Frobisher is reading Ewing’s journal, Frobisher’s lover Rufus Sixsmith, now quite aged, meets Luisa Rey, and on and on. All the protagonists share a specific shooting star-like birthmark that is seen in all six stories. It appears as if a single soul is being born again and again, traveling throughout time. Even as Mitchell gives each of those times an exceedingly different voice, they all focus in on similar themes of how the oppressed struggle and fight for what they believe is right no matter how futile the situation seems. In each story, our birth marked soul must make the choice to be different from the thing they are expected to be, struggling against the norm, to achieve some personal goal, to prove themselves, or just to be free from enslavement because the station at which they were born.

It’s a lot to process. It’s cacophonous chaos or deeply resonant chaos, a beautiful masterpiece or a dysfunctional mess. I tend to come down in the former camp, admiring Cloud Atlas for its ambition and the message that ambition serves. Three other admirers in my camp, the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, focused their ambition into a big screen spectacle, released in 2012. Their vision of Mitchell’s universe is easily one of my favorites films (being one of the few I actually own). If you’re going to take on Mitchell’s possibly insane literary high wire act, you’ve got to engage in some backflips of your own, and the directors don’t disappoint. Actors were cast not for a single role for multiple roles that spanned each of the film’s six timeframes. It takes the books notion of reincarnation to the next level, making it feel like not just one soul traverses time but that every soul is reborn and again and again.

As an adherent of Mitchell’s overall vision, I personally couldn’t have asked for a better adaptation. However, for those not familiar with the stories going into the film, there is the potential (okay, the near certainty) for confusion. While it begins going up the pyramid of stories like the book, it quickly does diverges from this linear pattern, skipping around so that all the stories are being told at once. They dance in and out of each other based not on timestamp, like in the book, but feeling and thematic connection, and together, all six climax feverishly and resolve simultaneously. Occasionally, some of the logic gets lost in the transitions, but it makes for a much more exciting cinematic experience than what a literal translation would need to do: cycle through six long conclusions one after another, as a series of episodes.

The Wachowskis’ and Tykver’s vision is, from where I’m sitting, a humanist masterpiece of an interpretation; know this: Cloud Atlas the novel is absolutely worth its time commitment as well. Yes, its format may be a bit frustrating, especially when the story you’ve been following is abruptly interrupted for hundreds of pages. In mid-sentence to boot! Put that frustration aside, or better yet, embrace it as part of the artistic experience. David Mitchell’s skill and range as an artist are vast, and one of the tools he’s leveraging is the crash of one story giving way suddenly to another and the tingle of anticipation as you approach that long abandoned story thread once again. If you fall in love with Ewing or Frobisher or Cavendish, the distance makes the heart grow fonder, especially when the distance points to them being but one player in a centuries spanning epic. As Ewing says at the conclusion of 1849 journal, even though he is the only character who knows nothing of any of his other selves: “My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”
Cloud Atlas makes you fall in love with the drops, but it also makes you reckon with the multitude.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Thomas has no idea where he is or how he got there. All he can remember is his name. Blinking in the sunlight, he sees a group of boys, a motley crew who live in a strange glade surround by a stone maze.

A very flustered Thomas just became the newest Glader; he doesn’t know what that means yet, and while the other boys preach patience, the new Glader quickly decides he wants to be a runner; he can feel that this dangerous job is his destiny even though the kids around him see it as an impossibility. Runner is the toughest job by far – they run into the maze when the doors open in the morning and map the ever-changing walls, being careful to return before nightfall when they would be trapped in the maze overnight with the Grievers. That poor soul caught in the Maze at night is as good as dead. The Gladers don’t know who would put them in such a dangerous situation or why, and they’re really baffled when, in a twist from regular deliveries, the box appears again the next day to reveal a girl. A girl who knows who Thomas is. With this unprecedented turn of events, the story barrels into action as the boys begin to realize they must get out now.

Much like Thomas, the reader has no clue what is going on initially. We are just as confused about why he just showed up in a box in a glade with no memories as he is. Maybe it has something to do with signs that say W.I.C.K.E.D. all over the maze? Signs Thomas becomes aware of only because he breaks the glades number one rule; never go into the Maze. Thomas, on top of being one of the older boys in the Glade, is a fast thinker, very observant, using every advantage he has to keep up the fight, take on the Grievers, and help his companions. Oh, and he’s a little reckless..

It is amazing how these young boys, probably 12-16 years of age, band together to create a society that has stood for years. They understood that wallowing in self pity would get them nowhere besides dead, so they devised jobs to keep everyone contributing. Each job has a Keeper and when an important decision must be reached the Keepers gather and vote to find an answer. The governing hierarchy seems to work rather well; newer Gladers respect decisions of their elders. The boys have built shelter, a graveyard, a medical facility, a prison, a governing and judicial system, and a whole culture out of only the supplies provided them from the mysterious box.

The Maze Runner has a strong science fiction element, giving it the a futuristic feel even though much of the story takes place in wooden shacks in a forest. This comes from the bigger picture, floating over the boys’ existence: the whole Maze and the Glade inside it were constructed by W.I.C.K.E.D, whoever they are. They not only built the stage, they filled it with monsters too. The Grievers themselves are a mix of mechanical and organic beings that roll with a mechanized grace and maintain a squishy needle filled body. Thomas’s brain has been altered in some way to allow him to communicate with Teresa, the new girl, telepathically. Neither knows why only they can do it, but they use this gift to their advantage as they work together to decode the Maze and escape the Grievers’ wrath.

By the end of this story, I felt both satisfied by the thrilling yarn that had been spun and yet extremely unsatisfied with how much I had learned about the Maze and why it existed. What are they using it for? Are they good or bad? The epilogue gave some hint into the thoughts behind the Maze, but nothing that scratched that itch to know the truth. It is actually quite impressive the way Dashner managed to write a compelling standalone story but keep so much of the mythology behind it a secret. I, of course, needed to read the rest of the trilogy and the prequel to get my questions answered.

The Maze Runner can now be seen as a major motion picture in a theater near you. On it’s own, the movie is exciting and fun to watch, though I wouldn’t expect it to be exactly the same as the book. There are some major changes in the transition from the page to the big screen, some of which are understandable, others leaving me perplexed. The movie, which hints a little more at the purpose behind the Maze without spoiling the sequels, is enjoyable, and I was satisfactorily disgusted by the Grievers. As for the book, it is definitely worth the read, but beware you probably won’t be able to put it, or it’s companion stories down!

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to the special DragonCon edition of Amber’s Book Club! Every year at DragonCon the Young Adult literature track chooses a book and gives readers a chance to meet up and discuss it not only with other con-goers but the with the author herself!

Shadow and Bone is the first book in a Young Adult fantasy trilogy by author Leigh Bardugo. We follow a young girl, Alina Starkov, through her rise to power. Orphaned as a child and raised at Kermazin, the orphanage, Alina (along with her childhood friend Mal) are drafted into the King’s First Army once they come of age – Alina as a cartographer and Mal as a tracker. We first meet Alina as her regiment is preparing to cross the shadowfold, or Unsea, a giant rift in the country of Ravka, a huge expanse of darkness full of monsters that separates the mainland from its shore and trade routes. Surrounded by enemy nations to the north and south, Ravka is in serious need of a hero. While its king dines in luxury in Os Alta, the country is ruled by the Darkling and his Second Army of powerful Grisha. Of these Grisha, the Darkling is the most powerful, with the ability to summon darkness. His plan is to cross the Unsea as well.

A volcra attack during the crossing means that, despite the protection of the Grisha, survival looks bleak… until the volcra grabs Alina and everything is bathed in a bright sunlight as Alina succumbs. Next thing she knows, Alina has an audience with the Darkling himself, and he tells her that she is a Sun Summoner and the only hope for destroying the shadowfold and restoring Ravka.

Like any good fantasy novel,this book has an intriguing take on magic and its various applications. The Grisha are people capable of performing the small science. The Corporalki have power over the living and dead. The Materialki are an order of fabrikators, and the Etherealki, summoners. The magic is based on principles of molecular chemistry. The Grisha cannot actually create or destroy; they can only manipulate what is already there. The Inferni order of fire summoners must carry a flint to create a spark in order to manipulate flame. The more powerful a Grisha becomes, the smaller the molecular scale they can work on, allowing them to have a wider effect.

On the Dragon*Con Book Club panel, Leigh stressed the importance of not only having an order of power in a novel, but also having a sense of place. Shadow and Bone is based on Russian culture, which Leigh spent two months studying – everything from textiles to art to hymnals. This research influences the detailing in the book, giving it a cohesive background. After all, you can tell right from the names on the map that you are heading to Russi… I mean Ravka!

Alina is a wonderfully crafted creation within this quasi-Russian world. At the outset, she is very nervous as she frets about entering the shadowfold and pouts about all the other girls looking at Mal. Throughout the novel, she comes into her own and embraces her power and her own self-worth. As she begins to accept her newfound powers, she also accepts who she is, something she must do as she attempts to become the hero everyone wants an needs her to be. She is a patriot who wants to save Ravka, but at what cost? She wrestles with right and wrong as she struggles to figure out what is actually the best course of action for her country and who might be lying to her. All the characters, except perhaps the pampered king, exhibit many dimensions, not fitting into a single box, instead showing a moral ambiguity that is true to life. Even though characters drastically disagree on what is right and wrong, each one believes they are acting in the best interest of Ravka. It’s no surprise, then, that, when asked how she relates to her characters, Leigh responded that she sees a little bit of her self in all of them, but not too much of herself in any single character.

Overall Shadow and Bone is a fantastic read, quick not just because I had a deadline (had to crunch those pages before the panel!), but because it is a thoroughly enveloping story. I immediately bought and read the sequels, in spite of a lack of panels or discussions or deadlines, and finished them while at DragonCon. Which is impressive, because, I mean, come on, there are plenty of distractions at DragonCon. But that was the experience I was thirsting for after the a pleasure of being able to sit down with Leigh and ask her about her inspirations. Even without that context (and for it, you should totally go to cons like Dragon*Con, they’re great!). I would highly recommend picking this YA novel up!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hey, let’s take a break from the reading of young adult dystopian fiction. Just for a moment. It’ll be worth it.

On one of my rather habitual trips to Barnes & Noble I picked up The Fault In Our Stars at the recommendation of a friend. Alright, you’ve heard of it, good, let’s talk about it. I sat down in one of the big comfy chairs in the bookstore and I read John Green’s bestseller. All of it. (Sorry commerce.)

The Fault In Our Stars features as its focus one Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer that has colonized her lungs. While a miracle drug has helped extend her life, Hazel’s diagnosis is terminal. She is depressed and mainly keeps to herself, watching America’s Next Top Model marathons and rereading her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction.

Her parents are trying to help; in doing so, they force her to go to cancer support group. Enter Augustus Waters. He is there to support his friend Isaac, who will soon lose both eyes to cancer. Augustus won a battle with osteosarcoma and came out only one leg lighter. Hazel and Augustus click immediately. He won’t stop staring at her and, y’know what, she actually kind of likes it. Their romance unfolds in pretty typical teenage cancer-boy-meets-cancer-girl fashion. They watch movies and swap favorite books. Everything feels pretty normal right down to being forced to watch V for Vendetta in the living room instead of Augustus’s bedroom. They become enveloped in An Imperial Affliction, which speaks to both of them. This passion leads them to wonderful new places and experiences they never imagined were possible. And then everything changes.

From the moment I picked the book up, heck even before that, I knew it was going to be a sad story. It’s about kids with cancer that fall in love, an obvious recipe for cathartic tragedy. I’m not sure if it’s just me but the tragedy I expected and tragedy I got were vastly different, so color me surprised. Not just surprised, but angry. Really and truly pissed off.

When I finished the book and put it back on it’s shelf (what?), I immediately left Barnes & Noble to hide all those inconvenient emotions. Upon entering the car it hit me just how good the book really was. Green is incredibly deft when it comes to mixing humor in the face of death with passages that pull hard on heartstrings. Hard enough that other author’s might break those heartstrings. But Green’s book isn’t so overwhelmingly tragic that it’s completely impossible to read in a public place without having a breakdown. (Well, experiences may vary.) There are some truly amusing scenes, most provided by Augustus and his unending sarcasm and wit. Considering his circumstances, he, as a character, would normally need to be provided a comic sidekick, what Issac could be – but no, Augustus provides his own comic relief, undermining his tragedy.

Green portrays the flowering of first love and the cold darkness of heartbreak with aplomb. Hazel first realizes she is flirting with Augustus while texting him about An Imperial Affliction; we realize it as she does, but we also see her surprise that she likes it even though it’s all very new and perhaps unwise. Why pick wise? Hazel really likes this boy, she has fun and stimulating conversation with him and he takes her on silly but awesome dates. With him, she lives, rather than waits to die.

The most extreme instance of this: Augustus cashes in his Wish so Hazel can visit the author of her favorite book. She is conflicted. Hazel knows the pain she causes her parents and the people around her who love her and she doesn’t want to burden Augustus by leading him into inevitable heartbreak, because she is terminal. A trip of the magnitude could sorely affect her health, and her and Augustus’s mental well-being. She thinks she may be able to keep him from getting hurt by not letting him love her. Augustus responds by saying “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you”. Despite her insistence that they are just friends, they do fall in love. Their love story, as expected, ends in pain and loss. Not in the pain and loss one might expect.

The Fault In Our Stars is now a major motion picture starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. The movie adaptation does a pretty god job of keeping to what’s effective in the book, leaving out only minor details and adding scenes that really bring Hazel to life. However, I will leave the discussion of the movie’s merits to Charles, and simply say that I liked it very much and would recommend you seeing. But, of course, the book is better, and I more highly recommend. Go read it. Maybe not in public. If you do, bring tissues, just in case.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

In his wonderful debut novel published just this year, Pierce Brown introduces us to the world of young Darrow, a resident of Mars. I know! We’re off to good start, and all I said was “Mars.”

Darrow is a Helldiver, the most dangerous job a helium-3 miner can have. How’d our hero draw the short straw? He is a Red, the lowest caste in the color-coded society of his futuristic world; it’s the Red’s job to toil in the mines for the helium-3 necessary to terraform Mars for future colonization on the planet’s surface.

At 16, Darrow is married to his beloved wife Eo. They live under the surface of Mars doing harrowing work, making barely enough to survive. The Golds, the highest caste, control the rations, allocating them based on how much helium-3 is produced. They also allocate justice, if it can be called that: when a Red breaks the Gold’s laws, like Darrow’s father did when he sang the forbidden song, they are hanged. Heartbreakingly, the gravity on Mars is not strong enough to break the neck during hanging, so the Gold’s allow a loved one to pull on the feet of the victim to make death come quicker.

This is the world Darrow knows. He believes his cause, toiling away, is a noble one. Once the planet is livable it will he inhabited by the rest of civilization, and it will have been worth the turmoil to make that happen. So he strives to be the best at what he does and win the Laurel’s bestowed by the Gold’s to the best group of miners. Outside of this ambition, he lives for his wife and nothing but her.

This creates conflict, since his beloved disagrees with his enthusiastic acquiescence. Eo tries to convince her husband to fight for her dream, the same dream that got his father killed: overthrowing the Society and destroying the Golds. Darrow is unwavering, but when Eo makes the decision for him, making a tragic choice, well… his life will never be the same.

Red Rising is, as you can gather from my description of the engrossing particulars, a very exciting read; I was reluctant to put it down until it had told me every last detail about Darrow and his Martian Society. One reason could be Darrow’s exceptional character arc. At first Darrow does not fit the trope of the typical dystopian novel protagonist. We are quite used to seeing young adults who are fed up with the controlling power and who are more than willing to seek a way to change the world while adults hold them back. But Darrow has Eo to care for and a job he’s good at and he makes just enough to scrape by; in general he’s content with his life, hard as it is, and really, he hasn’t a revolutionary inkling in him. It takes a shove from his wife to force his development from naïve boy to resolute man, filled, as he is, with unceasing rage. This man quickly accepts his new goal and does not resist his role in the rebellion. There is personal struggle aplenty, but when that struggle forces him to make hard decisions, the hardened Darrow does not falter. His ambition and intelligence, redirected towards different goals, help him countless times to get out of hot water. Always a driven individual, the rage he feels towards the Golds because of the pain they have caused him drives him forward.

Darrow is a very untrusting fellow, but a few friends – Cassius and Mustang – slip under his hard shell. Still, he doesn’t wholly put his faith in any of them. He keeps a huge secret from his classmates at the Institute and switches loyalties when it’s necessary. Even Mustang, whom he goes out of his way to nurse back to health, proves too easy to ditrust; certain she will betray him, he meets her for the final time prepared to destroy her. The most important thing for Darrow is winning, as it was when he was a simple miner seeking awards; he has to be the best and he has to topple the Golds and the Society. It’s not just revenge for his friends and family that drives him, it’s extremely personal, an internal fire within him which keeps him focused and, truthfully, really pissed off.

So who’s he so darn pissed at? The Golds of Luna rebelled against the tyranny of Earth and freed themselves from the constraints of Democracy and the ‘Noble Lie’ that all men are created equal. Thus began the Society, a system of castes where some men rule while others serve and each person is defined by their color. The highest ranked among the Golds are the Peerless Scarred, those who have gone through the Institute and come out on top of their class. At one point, we hear the Arch Governor Augustus talk about the Society, describing it s having “three stages: Savagery, Ascendance, and Decadence.” The Golds took their freedom with savagery, they ruled in ascension, and now they are doing everything in their power to avoid falling into decadence. In this, we can easily see the arc of some of history’s great (read; fallen) empires: Brown does not just ignore history; instead he weaves it intricately into his tale. The ruling class is very aware of why Empires like Rome fell and uses that history as propaganda meant to prevent a similar fall brought on by comfort. The irony is that, in the society create, anything is decadent compared to the life of a red; the lives of the ruling class passing down edicts on comfort most of all.

Brown does not leave his references to the Roman empire vague. The Roman gods play a large part throughout the novel. Darrow is assigned a persona aligned with the god Mars, the embodiment of masculine aggression and the force that drives war. All of this is very suiting for rage-filled Darrow. Several times in the novel, Darrow is compared to a flame that burns too brightly and burns out quickly. He knows that his mission is a long trek and he must, in spite of his nature, sustain his flame with all the ability he has. Some other prominent gods utilized are Minerva, Pluto, Jupiter, and Ceres. Each other character is assigned one of these gods, giving more insight into that character’s persona. It’s a familiar device, an Olympian sorting hat, if you will. (Each house even has a proctor that acts as the embodiment of that god, and they can bestow gifts or punishment as they see fit.) This sorting helps Darrow understand the other teams and develop strategies that could work to defeat them.

As far as dystopian novels go, this has easily one of my favorites in my favored genre. It is reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, but I’d venture to say I enjoyed my time with Darrow more than,my corresponding time with Katniss. That at first he just abides by the rules set up for him, and that he makes a bunch of mistakes along the way but uses these foibles to become something completely different by the end of the novel, these traits make him an extraordinarily realistic protagonist. It matters not that his adventures take place on far away Mars; he is able to accept circumstances that are terrible over and over again and remain focused on his ultimate goals, and that sort of determination will always hit close to home. Overall, we are looking at a great first book by someone who appears to be, from the look of Red Rising, an extremely promising young author. I anxiously await January 2015, which is when the second book in this trilogy, Golden Son, will be released.

Little Brother by Cory Doctrow

In the ever-popular genre of Young Adult dystopian societies, there exists the story of Marcus Yallow, 17-year-old San Francisco high school student. Marcus is your typical paranoid-hacker-tech-savant who uses the school laptop for chatting and who tricks the gait tracking cameras so he can sneak out of school and play Harajuku Fun Madness, the best game ever. Marcus is playing hookie with his scavenger hunt teammates Darryl, Vanessa and Jolu in the Tenderloin District when the explosions start.

The whole world is trembling and the four kids scramble for the safety of the nearest BART station only to become overwhelmed by bodies pushing them, people being trampled underfoot. They desperately try to escape the horde, risking it topside; in the scramble, Darryl is stabbed. Marcus, brilliantly, attempts to wave down a passing emergency vehicle, though he unfortunately draws the attention of the Department of Homeland Security instead. His head is soon in a black bag, his wrists strung up behind him as he is thrown into some kind of truck, a prisoner of the DHS.

Literally, this book starts off with a bang. Within its first few chapters, terrorists have blown up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and the Department of Homeland Security has been brought in to clean up the mess. However, in attempting this, they ruthlessly begin stripping Americans of their rights, interrogating and torturing children in the name of national security.

The torture and intimidation in this book really strikes close to home. We are not reading about some distant future populated with arenas or factions. Other books in this genre, such as Suzzane Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, play with those same themes of fear, government oppression, and paranoia, but they always feel more like fiction than fact. This book occurs in the near future in a world that is exactly like ours. Our government, torturing our youth, and society can do nothing about it. Not only is this book frighteningly possible, this scale of terrorist event has already happened! I would be remiss to discuss this novel with no mention of the attacks on 9/11. I would like to believe that none of the awful actions enacted by the U.S. government came close to occurring in reality in the years since 2001, and I hope that they never will.

To wit: Marcus, Van and Jolu are released after a week of dehumanizing interrogation and told that they are “marked;” if they mention being jailed they will be “removed.” Darryl is nowhere to be found. They do not even know if their friend is alive. After being released from the truck, Marcus feels someone wrap their arms around him and immediately reels away from the threat, terrified of taken again, only to realize it is his friend Van hugging him and crying.

Little Brother is told from the point of view of Marcus and it portrays his his struggle as a painful ordeal. One thing we learn very quickly about Marcus is that he is in fact paranoid. what starts as just an attempt to go online without being watched by the DHS turns into an all-out rebellion against the government. Marcus’ homemade laptop has been bugged so he turns to other technology. He pulls out his Xbox Universal that Microsoft gave away for free to everyone years ago and figures out how to run Paranoid Xbox to get him online. Everyone has an Xbox so he makes Paranoid Xbox CDs for his friends with the promise that they will make them for their friends and so on until the Xnet is born.

One of the reasons this book feels so real is that usage of familiar modern day technology. Even someone as tech-illiterate as myself recognizes the products Doctorow uses in the book. Who doesn’t know who Microsoft is? Doctorow takes this even further by going into tangents that explain how the technology Marcus is using is useful and why it works, such as an explanation of cryptos using extremely large prime numbers to encrypt data.

Marcus is paranoid about his government, but does what he does for what that government supposedly stands for. Marcus is a patriot. He can and does quote the Bill of Rights several times. He is not going to take this injustice lying down.

And yet he is also just a 17-year-old boy. He meets a girl, Ange, and she is totally into him. Marcus and Ange become partners in crime, a duo using the Internet to topple the government. They must do this while dealing with raging hormones and curfews. Doctorow does not push the sexual tension to the background, letting it happen in ways that may be too mature for some younger readers. We get to know what Marcus thinks of the many firsts he encounters with Ange in terms nowhere near as graphic as those used in George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire, but in terms the reader can not ignore. The all too realistic experience of Marcus falling in love for the first time helps ground the realism of Doctorow’s narrative, enforcing that this could totally happen tomorrow.

Of all of the dystopian novels I have read (and let’s be honest that is a long list, as you will find out), Little Brother scares me most. At the conclusion of the book, I immediately started its sequel, Homeland, because I really needed to know what happens to Marcus and Ange next. Doctorow’s book is a quick read, weighing in at 380 pages and sucking you in to frenzied page-turning. I was so worried about Marcus’ plans to mess with the DHS that I had to keep reading to make sure they didn’t have him in another black bag. Little Brother will leave you feeling wary of the American government but also hopeful for the American people’s ability to fight for what they believe in. Any story, fact or fiction, that can produce such an honest emotional reaction deserves to be read.