Sarah's Reviews > Little Brother

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
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May 26, 08

bookshelves: young-adult, commies, young-activists, speculating
Recommended for: everyone

** spoiler alert ** okay. so this book rocked pretty hard. if i could write a blurb for the back of the book it would say "cory doctorow: i didn't finish your book because i was too pumped up and freaked out to keep reading so i went out and overthrew the government and incited mass rebellion in the middle of the night."

of course i did finish the book though. it was awesome in a lot of ways. read this book. then give it to everyone you know. i haven't quite worked out how to give it to everyone at the same time yet, but Cory Doctorow has it for free download on his website so that should help.

here's the thing though. the book fails the bechdel test abysmally. (for those that don't know, the Bechdel Test measures how women are treated in a particular piece of media. it deliberately sets a really low bar in order for the work to pass the test. all that's necessary is for the work to have 1. two female characters with names 2. who talk to each other 3. about something other than a man. Easy, right? The horrifying thing is that most movies/books/etc fail the Bechdel test. Not only do they fail, they also pass the anti-Bechdel test with flying colors. That means that the proportion of books/movies/whatever that feature men talking to each other about things other than women is WAY out of proportion to the number of books that feature women talking about things other than men). So the book sends awesome messages about not sacrificing your personal freedoms for the sake of security, not letting the government cease to represent you, and defending yourself by refusing to be silent. However, it sends this message in a vehicle that ultimately recreates the same power structures that oppress people who struggle against the same sort of tyrannical governmental policies.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!

BrownBetty hit it right on when she said that Marcus's success depends on his access to upperclass white privilege. There are few women or people of color in the book. Doctorow clearly has good intentions, but it is not enough to simply have a strong female main character (Ange), it's not enough to have an of-color sidekick who helps critically (Jolu). Imagine the power of a book like this which, instead of being written about a white upperclass boy, was written about a couple of chicana lesbians, or a group of workingclass black people.

Doctorow sort of addresses this issue with Jolu. He says "I hate to say it, but you're white. I'm not. ...White people see cops on the street and feel safer. Brown people see cops on the street and wonder if they're about to get searched. They way the DHS is treating you? The law in this county has always been like that for us" (160). Maybe that's the point. To say to the upperclasswhiteboy, hey this can happen to you too. Not just to brown people who have the "wrong" religion or the wrong "ethnic" name. But the portrayal of women (or rather lack thereof) still makes me uneasy. For a book that's all about challenging authority and social norms, it could push a little harder in challenging the norms in the way it's written.

Maybe this book will have wider appeal because it's protagonist is your typical whiteuppermiddleclassmale. Maybe people wouldn't read the same book if it was about a group of girls, or gay people, or people of color. Am i willing to overlook that for the sake of the overall theme/message of the book? i'm not sure. MLK Jr said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," I'm not sure that I want to sacrifice some of my views to help spread other of my values. I don't think we really want to get into playing a game of whose issue is "more important."

Damnnit Cory Doctorow. Help me out a little here. Your book rocks hard, really it does, but THINK BIGGER!
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Sandi Sarah, I think you may have missed the strong female characters in the book. Ange is definitely strong and she carries Marcus along when he's ready to quit. Marcus' mother is incredibly strong as is her reporter friend who breaks his story.

Also, wasn't Ange black? I don't recall if or where that was said, but I just pictured her as African-American throughout the story. I thought it was kind of neat that Marcus had friends of different races and it just didn't matter.

Remember, this story was told from the point of view of a teenage boy. They're kind of clueless when it comes to girls and women. The strong women are there in the story, but Marcus doesn't really see their strength until they do something extraordinary, like his mother taking charge of the situation once he finally tells her what happened.

I thought it was great to find a character like Marcus that teen boys could relate to. When I hit the young adult section, 90% of the books are Gossip Girl and Twilight knockoffs. What little there is for boys is dungeons and dragons fantasy. I thought this book was very refreshing and we need more books like it. Now, if somebody would just get some non-trash for girls. Somehow, I suspect that the Gossip Girls aren't very good role models.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Hadn't heard of the Bechdel test; thanks for bringing it up and explaining it. I do believe that it passes, as Ange speaks to the mom about her capsicum mister. I agree: Doctorow missed a few notes gender-equity-wise.


Barbara On the other hand, I was really psyched to see girls mentioned AT ALL in the techno-hacking world and in larping and arging (?). I don't see many girls interested in technology in the high school where I teach and that's disturbing.


message 4: by Terry (last edited Dec 20, 2008 02:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Terry Hadn't heard of the Bechdel test; thanks for bringing it up and explaining it. I do believe that it passes, as Ange speaks to the mom about her capsicum mister. I agree: Doctorow missed a few notes gender-equity-wise.


Anya really excellent review! i'd never heard of the Bechdel test, its a very good idea and should be better advertised. i do think that the book worked the way it is but it would be really neat to see it with some bigger thinking.


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