by Cory Doctorow
The United States Government is in place to serve and protect its citizens, right? After all, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave, yes? After reading this novel, readers may not be so sure.Teenage computer guru Marcus and his crew find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up being arrested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). No big deal, right? They’re kids and they’ve done nothing wrong, or at least that’s what they think. But when they ask DHS for their parents, an attorney, their rights as U.S. citizens, anything, they are met with open accusations and hostility. Worse, it’s clear they aren’t going home anytime soon. Marcus doesn’t plan on living his whole life as a hostage to DHS—instead, he plans to sabotage the DHS system that targets American citizens and expose them for the terrorists they really are.
I’ll admit, I hardly came up for air while reading this novel, or maybe I felt breathless out of fear. It’s hard to believe that our government might intentionally violate the rights and privacy of innocent citizens, but I Googled “homeland security violated rights of citizens” and got 5,700,000 results in less than a second. Scary. Of course not everything on the net is true, but if even 1% of those articles have some truth to them…ouch. What DHS’s unconstitutional behavior (and make no mistake, they are the villains here) does for this novel is ratchet up the tension and paranoia and intensify the setting. I swear I felt like I was Marcus. I began to understand what it might feel like to be held hostage, to be innocent, and yet feel dirty. I started looking over my shoulder. I totally understood his fear, his desire to cave, his rage, and in the next moment, his steadfastness in taking down DHS. Marcus is a flawed character, and in those flaws he is totally real. Who wouldn’t get depressed or have doubts under such pressure? Perhaps what is best about Marcus is his commitment to the cause. I’d like to think I would risk it all to end persecution, to stand up for what is right, but would I? Another excellent component of the story is the author’s ability to explain highly technical aspects of the computer and online world in a way that non-techies like me can totally grasp. Yeah, the encrypting and encoding and whatnot are completely without question over my head, but I got it! Maybe that’s because all the characters have spot-on dialogue, or because Marcus just explains well. Through the eyes of Marcus, the author makes me feel smart, like I could hang with Marcus, and I feel involved in the action. In fact, I could hardly put the novel down! Perhaps best of all is what I learned from the novel. I used to think that if someone had nothing to hide they should be an open book, but Marcus made me understand why this is not so. Check this rockin’ analogy.
Everyone uses the toilet right? There is nothing unnatural about it, nothing evil, nothing wrong with it, but I don’t particularly want to sit on a toilet in Times Square and display my business for the masses. ‘Nuff said. BTW…the sequel to this novel, Homeland, came in my mail last night. Guess what I’m reading next?