Ever since my daughter was a little girl, we listened to books on CD. It all started with a tape of the musical, Beauty and the Beast. I remember vividly how the five year-old corrected my French. “No mommy, it’s not Bon Jour, it’s Don Jour.” I didn’t win the debate then, but she now stands corrected.
Through the years we’ve listened to many, many books. Even though she’s a junior in high school, we still grab several books to listen to during our car rides. The latest was a grab-and-go from the library: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
We’re not yet done listening, but I have to say the book has already made an impression on us. Doctorow writes a fiction that can be real to us Americans at any minute. Protag, Marcus Yallow, finds himself fighting back against DHS (Department of Homeland Security) by using technology. That’s all I’m giving you…and pretty much all you need to know as far as a summary goes.
Let’s talk about POC (Person of Color) characters… Doctorow doesn’t write a POC protagonist, but he adds them in the San Fran landscape. He doesn’t ignore the diversity of the metropolitan city. And, he doesn’t feel the need to sugar coat POC characters with food type descriptions. He simply says, “The black guy” or “She was Latino.” It’s exactly how teens/people describe others. I don’t say, “She was of vanilla complexion.” She’s white. No guessing, right? No one should be offended unless stereotypes are added.
Jolu, Marcus’s friend, is another techie. He is a POC. There’s a scene where Jolu talks about his fear of getting caught doing techie stuff for the movement. The dialogue is beautifully written because it’s true. Jolu tells Marcus that as a POC, he’s always being stopped by the police or looked at as suspicious. We feel the privilege that Marcus has as he wants to fight the oppressors, but now feels pressure. This is a new world to Marcus, as Jolu always feels the pressure. The dialogue doesn’t talk around the issue of how POC are treated or viewed differently than their white counterparts. And it’s not done in a patronizing way, either.
Also, there’s a revolution that Marcus is inciting. In a scene, Marcus talks about his fear. At this moment, I off turn the CD and ask my daughter if she’d continue on with the movement or stop due to fear (a decision that Marcus has to make). She didn’t know. That’s an honest answer, I didn’t know either. We talked about the crossroads of fear and courage. We brought up how teens and adults pushed through their fears during the Civil Rights Movement. To be honest, I question if I would’ve been brave enough to face police with their batons, fire hoses, and malicious dogs. This novel made me reflect about my would-be participation in a major historical event AS WELL as a fictional one. Hopefully, other readers will question their place in this world, too. In this novel, Marcus wants freedom. He feels that it’s his right as a US citizen. Blacks wanted freedom, too, during the CRM. Would WE be more afraid of the outcome of our participation or desire freedom more regardless of the costs? We let the thoughts sift through our minds and turned back on the CD.
Doctorow not only mentions the CRM, but the protag is knowledgeable of many different revolutions. It’s not all black and white. He uses this story to reflect society back to its readers–both good and bad. It’s how readers choose to synthesize it is what’s important.
No, let me take that back. What’s important is that Doctorow infuses the oppression of others in his story. I gave a lecture about writing POC characters. Many colleagues were still afraid of getting it wrong. Afraid of criticism. Then I say, don’t be a writer because there will always be a critic. But I do realize that their fear is deeper than regular story criticisms. What I strongly urge them to do is write characters with hypocrisy and bigotry. Reflect society back to us through their stories and characters. Let the character arcs help change us as we explore deep rooted prejudices through a lens of an imaginary character–we hate to admit our own prejudices exist and it’s easier to feel a change as our beloved characters transform or become enlightened.
We’re hooked. But I love how Doctorow uses this story to hint at and expose the oppression of POC, the desire for freedom, and how WE all want it. The protagonist parallels his movement with others because after all, we are all human and desire the same thing. FREEDOM.