Kathryn said this was a drop-everything book. Pat Murphy liked it. Kelly Link blurbed it. I didn’t like it quite that much, but don’t be fooled by the YA packaging: this is entertaining and important fiction about the near future, extrapolating Bushite homeland security toward its logical consequences.
The YA convention holds that a gang of multi-talented kids need to work together to save the world. Here, the gang is largely a formality: we have a hint of a gang, the plot formally calls for one, and there are editorial scars suggesting that the gang played a larger role in some other vision. But this is a thriller — the story of a kid who found himself leading The Resistance against the surveillance state.
This is an important theme for a thriller, not only because Resistance may be in all over our futures, but also because Doctorow captures exactly how gradually and naturally a teenage kid can be converted from a moderate troublemaker into a political force. Marcus and friends are ditching school — pursuing a live-action role-playing scavenger hunt — one day when the Bay Bridge is blown up. The kids are caught up in the security panic, detained, interrogated — and radicalized. Doctorow captures perfectly how the security people can convince themselves that they're doing a necessary job with necessary force — lives are at stake! — and suddenly we’re detaining suspects, subjecting them to stressful interrogation, running intrusive background checks, suborning them, and eventually somehow we’re torturing children.