Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recent reading

As you can see from the sidebar, I did not complete my assigned reading while on vacation. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy both Out of the Wild* and Little Brother--and I passed the latter on to my brother-in-law, who enjoyed it as well. Part of the pleasure for both of us--more for him, a San Francisco native--was a familiarity with the locations. It's always fun to find a place one knows in fiction. But what I enjoyed even more was the unapologetic political nature of the novel, and the unabashed geekery. I have to confess I couldn't much follow the latter, but I found it compelling anyway--and more than a little paranoid.

The day before we left for France, I field a call from our bank for Mariah. She was out on her scooter, and the bank was concerned that her debit card had been used twice at gas stations in the last hour and a half. That's a pretty typical fraud pattern, they explained, so they just wanted to make sure she really did have the card. I called her and all was well, and we were grateful to the card company for checking. But after reading Little Brother I reflected again on how that information could be used. While I trust our bank (mostly) to keep our data safe, the fact that the information is out there means it could be misused, as it is in the novel. (For those who haven't read it, in the novel government agents use credit card, cell phone, internet, and toll-pass data to track citizens whom they suspect of terrorist involvement.) When do the potential harms outweigh the real benefits of this kind of data gathering? How do we know how our data is being used, and what can we do to protect it? The novel asks these questions in an always-entertaining, fast-paced adventure that explores the role of civil liberties in a civil society.

I can imagine Little Brother as one of the "surprise" YA titles of the sort discussed in Margo Rabb's piece in the New York Times, a book that began life as simply "a novel," that was then picked up and marketed as YA. Or maybe not--I don't know what Doctorow had in mind. But the book seems to me an obvious candidate for crossover, regardless.

Rabb, it seems to me, is saying much more diplomatically what Frank Cottrell Boyce said a month or so ago about YA literature: it's literature, and/but some people find the YA label off-putting. Others don't, of course (read Justine Larbalestier and Little Willow for more on this). But I did find myself defending the book a bit to my brother-in-law before passing it on. Maybe I have to work on my own attitudes...

*More on OOTW in another post. I am still mulling over some of the implications of the series and its attitudes towards fairy tales. I'll come back to it soon, I hope.

1 comment:

  1. So this is maybe the 437th good thing I've heard about Little Brother. You've won me over - I'm just gonna have to read it for myself.