When his sister is shot and killed in a gangland drive-by shooting, Teddy plots revenge, and the tension of this gritty and violent story lies in just how he will do it. Los Angeles gang leaders are like Pied Pipers of the inner city, luring people into their fold, and Sitomer explores the dynamics of the gangs—why they’re attractive, how they operate and what societal factors contribute to their growth. Unfortunately, the well-meaning text too often sounds like an angry social worker expounding on the ills of society, to the detriment of the story itself. The character of Teddy is sometimes secondary to social analysis, and at other times he’s too much the superhero to seem real—a consummate street fighter, a world-class computer hacker and a handsome, smart boy with a penchant for trouble. However, the fast-paced plot and lurking threat of violence will capture readers’ attention, and older readers will find this a satisfying conclusion of the Hoopster trilogy. (Fiction. YA)
Another action thriller from Britain follows a young computer hacker who falls prey to the American rendition scheme and must escape from a top-security prison camp located in a frozen Arctic wasteland. Seventeen-year-old Carl Hobbes breaks into Fort Knox in virtual fashion, operating from his home computer. Although Carl pledges to tell the Americans how he did it, he’s essentially kidnapped from England and flown to a remote prison along with bona-fide terrorists. Characterizations tend toward the extreme, if shallow, side, but add some nice color to the narrative. However, the good cop/bad cop personalities of the Americans are nothing compared to the actual terrorist who takes over the camp. Even in this males-only outpost, Whyman manages to include the obligatory hot babe. In the same entertainment-only vein of the Alex Rider series, but with a bit more depth and maturity. Great for action fans. (Fiction. YA)
In this unapologetically didactic tribute to 1984, Marcus—known online as w1n5t0n (pronounced "Winston")—takes on the Department of Homeland Security.
It's only a few years in the future, and surveillance software is everywhere. Monitored laptops track students' computer use; transit passes and automated toll systems track travel; credit-card networks track consumer purchasing. A terrorist attack on San Francisco is all the excuse the DHS needs for a crackdown, and Marcus is swept up in the random post-bombing sweeps. But where arrest and torture break 1984's Winston, they energize w1n5t0n. Released from humiliating imprisonment and determined to fight those who say that the innocent have nothing to hide, Marcus becomes the driving force behind a network of teenagers fighting the surveillance state. Long passages of beloved tech-guru Doctorow's novel are unabashedly educational, detailing the history of computing, how to use anti-surveillance software and anarchist philosophies. Yet in the midst of all this overt indoctrination, Marcus exists as a fully formed character, whose adolescent loves and political intrigues are compelling for more than just propagandistic reasons.
Terrifying glimpse of the future—or the present.
It’s February, 2002, in Trinity Falls, N.J., a sleepy little suburban town south of New York City. The impact of 9/11 ripples throughout the world, but teenagers here are still wrapped up in standard high-school issues: Who’s going to be my date? Will I win my next wrestling match? Will I ever be accepted? Then two women die, on the same block, of the same mysterious symptoms. Why? Is it a new flu? Or something even more deadly? Half a world away, a computer prodigy stumbles across clues hidden in Internet chatter, and the need to solve the puzzle leads to a pulse-pounding showdown. This is a story about the threat of bioterrorism as seen through the eyes of the generation that will grow up with it as a reality, not just as a fictional bogeyman. The teens are the focus here, all excellent character studies drawn adeptly with few words. The swift pace grabs the reader right from the start, with a page-turning intensity. Plum-Ucci takes the incredible and makes it all too believable. (Fiction. YA)
Told entirely in instant messages, this modern epistolary tale prompts both tears and LOL (laughing out loud). Best buds SnowAngel (Angela), zoegirl (Zoe), and mad maddie (Maddie) IM with one another constantly when not in school. Tenth grade is tough, with obnoxious trendy classmates, unfair parents, and sex. Friends can help each other get through the year, but only if they manage to stay together. Angela flits through a series of rotten boyfriends, Zoe discovers Christianity while becoming disturbingly close to her English teacher, and Maddie befriends the class bad girl. Since cynical Maddie can’t cope with Zoe’s emerging faith, and trusting Zoe won’t see anything wrong in her growing relationship with Mr. H., the trio might not survive. But best friends are always there for each other, and a series of emergencies pushes them further apart and then brings them back together, closer than ever. After a slow start due to the unusual format (a glossary would probably help), this develops into a surprisingly poignant tale of friendship, change, and growth. Perfectly contemporary. ROTFL. (Fiction. YA)
A cyber-thriller that reads like a video game. Sam Wilson isn't out of high school yet, but he's on his way to becoming the most wanted hacker in the world—first for crashing the international computer grid (well, he didn't mean to), then for subverting the White House security system (OK, that was on purpose). But when he escapes from federal custody, he learns that his country needs him: Terrorists prowl the Internet, and Sam's skillz may be the last defense from a neuro-virus wiping out humanity. The adrenaline-pumped action relentlessly levels up from caper novel to virtual combat to elaborate chases to military apocalypse, culminating in the traditional god-mode confrontation with the Final Boss. Plausible tech and a series of deftly detailed settings make up for pixel-thin characterizations, although thoughtful readers may be frustrated at the ethical dilemmas and sociological issues that are raised only to vanish like vaporware. But most will blast through to the epilogue, simultaneously satisfying and deeply unsettling, and eye their keyboards with more respect and a little nervousness. Geektastic. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
Daelyn will commit suicide in 23 days. Until then, she will plan the circumstances of her death and share her reasons for wanting to kill herself on an Internet discussion board. Bullying, both physical and emotional, has made Daelyn’s life hell. After years of abuse at her peers’ hands, she refuses to form emotional connections. At home, her clueless parents guard her movements and allow her little privacy. Despite Daelyn’s inability to speak due to a failed suicide attempt, a quirky boy she meets outside school wants to befriend her. His friendship, however, cannot change Daelyn’s isolation, despair or traumatic past. The ending is purposely unclear as to whether Daelyn commits suicide. Through her board postings, readers will see that Daelyn has good reason to be depressed, but some might question whether she is too willing to play the victim. Parts of her journey feel rushed, particularly the times when she reflects on her reasons for killing herself. Includes a discussion guide and resources on suicide and bullying. (Fiction. YA)
Teenage hackers Noa and Peter band together for vengeance and discover an inconceivable conspiracy.
Sixteen-year-old computer whiz Noa Torson has escaped the Child Protective Services system by creating a fake foster family that includes a reclusive, freelance IT-guy of a father who draws a tidy salary working “from home”; she thinks she’s safe. When she wakes up in a hospitallike operating theater with no memory of how she got there, she doesn’t take the doctors’ lame explanation that she was in a car accident and uses her smarts to escape. Meanwhile, Boston child-of-privilege Peter pokes around his father’s files and is interrupted by armed thugs who break down the door and storm off with his computer (leaving a warning for his parents). Peter enlists his hacktivist group /ALLIANCE/ (of which Noa is a member) to, first, research the subject of those files and then to attack his attackers via the Net. The attack only serves to dig the teens in deeper when they uncover a frightening conspiracy of human experimentation and corporate malfeasance that could mean a quick death for them both. Adult author Gagnon’s YA debut is a pulse-pounding scary-great read. The strong characters and dystopian day-after-tomorrow setting will have teens begging for more. The slightly open end leaving the possibility (but not necessity) of a sequel will rankle some; others will just breathlessly smile.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for preteens and teens, a surefire hit.
Carried along by much peeling back of layers of deception and repeated thickenings of plot, this hefty but engrossingly complex tale features a young super-brain being groomed for world domination. Under the tutelage of his mysterious psychologist Thaddeus, 13-year-old Cadel subtly engineered spectacular traffic jams in Sydney, caused all of his high school class to fail their finals and similar exploits. He now enters the exclusive Axis Institute, where innocuously named courses like “Coping Skills” and “Accounting” turn out to be tutorials in basic lying, embezzlement and such. Determined to develop a predictive program for all human behavior, he discovers himself enmeshed in multiple webs of intrigue, which, along with his own efforts to manipulate faculty and fellow students, result in an escalating array of fatalities. Gradually, he begins to wonder whether he’s really cut out for the role of evil overlord. Along with keeping the suspense expertly tuned and stirring in any number of stunning revelations, Jinks fills out the cast with brilliantly conceived friends and adversaries. His emotional maturity realistically lagging behind his intellectual development, Cadel rides right up there with Artemis Fowl as a sympathetic anti-villain. (Fiction. 12-15)
“I don’t know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years ago. Before than, they had to use their hands and their eyes. Computers were all outside the body. They carried them around outside of them, in their hands, like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase and opened it to breathe.”
Titus and his friends have grown up on the feed—connected on a 24-hour basis through brain implants to a vast computer network, they have become their medium. “The braggest thing about the feed . . . is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are.” Titus is a master at navigating this world where to consume is to live, but when he meets Violet, a distinctly unusual girl whose philology-professor father has chosen to homeschool her instead of sending her to School™, he begins, very tentatively and imperfectly, to question this equation. Thrown together when their feeds are hacked at a party and they are temporarily disconnected, their very hesitant romance is played out against the backdrop of an utterly hedonistic world of trend and acquisition, a world only momentarily disturbed by the news reports of environmental waste and a global alliance of have-not nations against the obliviously consuming US. Anderson (Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, 2001, etc.) has crafted a wickedly clever narrative in which Titus’s voice takes on perfectly the speech patterns of today’s more vapid teens (“ ‘Oh, unit,’ I was like, ‘is this malfunction?’ ”). When Violet’s feed begins to fail, and with it all her life functions, she decides to rebel against all that the feed stands for—the degradation of language, the self-absorption, the leaching of all culture and independent thought from the world—and Titus must make his choice.
The crystalline realization of this wildly dystopic future carries in it obvious and enormous implications for today’s readers—satire at its finest.