It took me a couple of weeks to read Homeland by Cory Doctorow. Even though I have the summer “off,” I attended a Common Core workshop. And my mom came for a visit. But I think that’s not really why it took a long time to read. Doctorow writes about tough stuff, important tough stuff, stuff that makes you think, stuff that makes you want to research more stuff, stuff that makes you want to take action.
In Little Brother, the first book about Marcus Yallow, there is a terrorist attack on San Francisco. Marcus and his friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time and known to press boundaries with their technology expertise and creativity. They are detained, waterboarded and released by the Department of Homeland Security, which has turned San Francisco into a police state. Marcus uses his time, energy, and vast programming skills to become the leader of a movement to expose and counter the DHS.
Homeland takes place a few years later. Marcus has dropped out of college and is drowning in college loan debt. His parents have lost their jobs, and Marcus has had little luck finding one. He is into makerspaces and attends Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. While there, he runs into Masha, a former DHS operative, who has been collecting over 800,000 documents that will expose the dirty politics and tactics of the DHS and particularly, of the brutal Carrie Johnstone (first introduced in Little Brother). She gives Marcus a USB drive and instructions to release the documents in case anything happens to her. Of course, something happens to her–almost immediately. She is kidnapped by Carrie Johnstone, and Marcus sees it happen.
Marcus hesitates to release the documents as instructed, worried about the safety of himself and his girlfriend, Ange, and he spends much time examining the documents, deciding what to do, and creating a dark-net site for them. In the meantime, he takes a job as webmaster (and much more)at a grass-roots campaign for Joe Noss, an independent candidate. Everything comes to a head when Marcus attends an Occupy-type rally that shows just how far the DHS is willing to go.
I hesitated to write about Homeland because there was so much in it that was new to me. I wondered if I would get something wrong. I wondered if I was too old to “get it.” I wondered if I just was technologically or politically aware enough to make sense. And then I decided, it’s OK. Even though I am (much) older than Doctorow’s target audience, I am starting at the same place as many of them. Doctorow’s intention is to tell a great a story, but it is also to educate and inform, to encourage critical thinking about our government, and to invite, nay, to INSPIRE readers to want to learn more–about technology, about civil liberties, and about how to take action.
There are two afterwords: one by Jacob Appelbaum of WikiLeaks and one by internet activist and Reddit co-founder, Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide this past January. These afterwords are a direct call to teens to get educated and get involved. Doctorow’s bibliography suggests research methods and websites to readers who have been motivated by his book.
Dystopian literature is the hottest thing in YA fiction right now. But Doctorow shows us that dystopia is now–that what makes us cringe when we read dystopias is not far from the reality of 2013. But better yet, Doctorow shows us that he has faith that young adults can change the world. And that faith is contagious….