As a firm believer that YA novels are often regular novels with younger protagonists and different branding, this one both lives up to and subverts that expectation. It is a solid near-future (or alternate history, take your pick) novel that could just as easily co-exist alongside “adult” fiction. It also presents, unapologetically, teenage motivations, point of view, and passions.
In this world, the Department of Homeland Security has gone just a little – just a little – farther than they did in ours. Marcus got caught up in DHS’s liberty-removing crackdown… and fought back. His trials and tribulations (along with the possibility of romance), and how he tries to outwit the DHS and bring freedom back to America are compelling.
Did I mention the romance? Marcus is a 17 year old. As a result, he’s horny – and Marcus isn’t gelded in Doctorow’s work. The sexual/romantic elements are neither gratutitous or glorified – they’re presented straightforwardly and are a natural part of the story. It does mean I’m going to wait a year or four before giving this book to my (now) twelve year old.
Unlike the sex, there is a political point to this book, and it occasionally gets in the way of the story. Much like Orwell’s 1984 (though much less obnoxiously), characters sometimes break into political monologues to clarify a point. Again, these aren’t the many-paged oratories that Orwell tended to do; they are usually only a few paragraphs in length. But they are present, and there’s no mistaking which side we’re expected to identify with.
And it should be said – I do identify with that side. I loathe “security theater” (including much of the data mining); not only is it bad for actual security, but its failures discredit real security. I’ve been interested in public-key encryption for a long time as well, and this book also rekindled my interest.
It’s an intriguing (and sometimes rightfully paranoia-inducing) book. Like most of Doctorow’s works, it’s released under a Creative Commons license, so you can check the book out for free on Cory’s site. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start up my TOR relay again, and figure out how to use PGP with Thunderbird…