This novel is compelling reminder for a new generation of mid to older teens that every light casts a shadow, every benefit has a cost. Our increasing reliance on public and private collective authority means that we hand over ever more of our personal power in exchange for apparent security and a more manageable, less haphazard life. LITTLE BROTHER reads well. Though I appreciated the explanations of technical details and the occasional pleasantly pedagogical meanderings through postwar American social history, I wonder if less words may have been used to this end: the cyber/tech lingo and related permutations of plot weigh the story down somewhat, and at times pushed the limits of my patience. The brief essays presented at the book’s end are interesting and informative, a nice touch.
The element of LITTLE BROTHER which rather spoiled the book for me regrettably comprises a sizeable chunk of our culture. It is almost inescapable in adult reading material and on screen, and is making its way relentlessly into teen and YA fiction resources. IT is explicit sex. Even when it occupies a relatively small portion of a book. IT has compromised many a novel for me, and when my daughter was younger than her current ripe old age of 15, it caused me to refrain from recommending to her attention several otherwise excellent books (perhaps the tables have turned now?).
I wonder if it’s helpful to dwell on this. Maybe our hyper-sexualized ethos is just a symptom of a deeper, more primary problem which must be addressed first. But there will always be a more-underlying issue…we can only act where we find ourselves now, and hope that what we sow may chance upon a patch of receptive soil. What saddens me, and the reason I write this, is that I fear that increasing sexual indulgence and explicitness, the commodification and commercialization of sex, go hand-in-hand with a decline in the integrity of a society; that they reflect patterns throughout human history that form part of a downward spiralling and, ultimately, the dis-integration of civilizations.
My daughter (at present not exactly a paradigm of patience) tells me that she tends to find children bothersome and often just plain annoying, and that she may well choose not to bear a child when she is older. In a way, this gives me a feeling of relief, because I find myself struggling to keep up my faith in, and hope for, humanity. (Though perhaps it’s not humanity that is the proper object of faith anyway…)
Mr. Doctorow: your characters wonder, Who can be trusted? Surely, before all, they trust YOU not to spy on perhaps the most intimate experiences of their lives. They trust you, of all people, to respect their privacy—just as they rebel against government surveillance of their everyday lives.
Authors: please do not make me a voyeuse! Take to heart what the ghostly protagonist in a story by Aidan Chambers has to say:
I’m not one of those ghosts who go round peeping at friends they’ve left behind, enjoying the sight of them in all kinds of situations both public and private. (Personally, I think that’s as sick an occupation for a ghost as it is for a mortal.)
(from Dead Trouble in GHOSTS THAT HAUNT YOU)
Mercifully, in LB the inevitable consummation of said relationship is not graphically spelled out for us. Excellent writers learn how to employ understatement, subtlety, brevity, humour, distancing, mystery—in a word, tact—to represent, and honour, sexual intimacy. They do not betray the trust of their characters, nor that of their readers.