Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.
As I have mentioned before, this book was part of my school assigned summer reading this year. I usually don’t enjoy required reading, but I loved this book.
At the beginning of this book, we meet Marcus, a seventeen year old computer geek who breaks the rules because he can. Marcus and his three best friends, Jolu, Darryl, and Van, play an Alternate Reality Game called Harajuku Fun Madness. One day during school, Marcus learned that a new clue for the next puzzle was released. In order to be the first people to reach the clue, Marcus and his friends had to sneak out of school.
With their extensive technological knowledge, these four teenagers were able to manipulate their schools’ inept security systems that only exist because of paranoid adults, and made their way to where the wifi signal would give them the clue.
After a run-in with other teenagers playing this game, a major terrorist attack happened right before their eyes. The sirens were louder than the screaming and there were blaring announcements telling the citizens where to head to. The teenagers managed to escape the tides of people all heading in the same direction, but got arrested by the Department of Homeland Security and taken to a remote location.
The four innocent teens were kept in separate holding cells and interrogated violently by the DHS for varying amounts of time. Once Marcus was released, he met up with Van and Jolu again, but no one had heard from Darryl since the terrorist attack.
Life after the attack was never the same as before. Security was heightened to the point of a normal twenty commute taking two hours due to the DHS stopping people whose behavior seemed ‘abnormal,’ and making sure they weren’t trying to blow up the country. The lack of privacy due to new security greatly bothered Marcus. He believed that America was supposed to be a free country and he felt anything but free.
This belief drove Marcus to fight back, as discreetly as possible. Soon enough Marcus and his friends were making a small enough difference that continued to grow, until they were getting national attention.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot because of spoilers.
I loved this book so much. It was sci-fi, yet something I could easily see happening in our culture today. I loved how the characters were high school aged, not trained computer scientists out of college. These teenagers were making a difference because they believed in something, and that is something I admire.
I discussed this book with other kids in my school who read it, and many of them believed the way the technology was described was too complicated for them to comprehend. While I understand their point, I disagree. I think Doctorow explained the technology in a way that an average person could understand to the extent they need to in order to understand the story.
I would recommend this book to everyone because there are lessons in it that anyone of any age could use.