I was told. I was told to read this by folks in the last iteration of the fantasy class. It came up on multiple bibliographies. Ben said it too. Finally, I read it, and I sit here (having to go to a reception in 15 mins) in quiet awe. This is a great book, and though I can't add it to the reading list for this fall, I've just added it to the list for next year's iteration of Fantasy Literature and Media for Youth.
What can I say. A near-future version of San Francisco is hit by a terrorist attack, and Marcus and his 3 closest friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are taken and held for questioning by the Department of National Security (DNS), and Marcus's friend Daryll disappears. It's a dizzying start, but it's only the beginning. Marcus gets out after being threatened that he's being watched. Everything, meaning everything, he does is being tracked. He hacks a free X-box machine, a promotional give-away, to run ParanoidLinux, a system designed to encrypt all activity. And from there, he starts the revolution, jamming the system, confusing the tracking devices, and eventually recruiting a host of other under-25-year-olds to the cause of resisting the police state.
In this near-future, the hackers are the heroes. Adults are tv-watching fools who, mostly, sanction the DNS restrictions to make them "safe." Doctorow does a fabulous job of including just enough history of real social movements, particularly the Yippies, to make this fictional, sci-fi story seem even more plausible. It will sound hackneyed, but Marcus also meets a geeky girl. That Doctorow carries off the creation of a believable and substantive romantic subplot along with the tech-geek speak and revolution plotlines... really, what more can you ask?
Did I mention I was in awe?
The only hole I noticed (and I can be damn picky) is that Doctorow doesn't specify, at one point, whether Marcus is using his school-and-DNS monitored laptops to write his papers or not. It seems to imply that he's using his X-box, which is potentially problematic in that the school might proactively monitor his assignment production. But those were extra credit, so nevermind.
See? It's that good. Just read it.