Friends, this is good stuff. But I am reminded of when Neil Gaiman's Coraline came out, and he discovered, to many people's surprise, that it was a great deal more disturbing to adults than to children. I have friends of all ages, but there's a line somewhere between a few of you who read this lj and are in your late teens and my friend K who is 13. She is not just my friends' kid, but she is my friends' kid, and I am one of her grown-up friends. At this age, it makes a difference. K will be going into high school in the fall. She is old enough to make mildly racy jokes in company, old enough to think through adult discussion and ask questions, old enough to read this book. But I am old enough that if I gave her a copy for her 14th birthday later this year, it would come with apologies. Not for the book itself; the book is extremely well-done. But I am so, so sorry that it's needed. I am so very sorry that this is the book we should give her at this age. "If this goes on" was not moonbases and trips to Mars when I was a teenager, but it was genetic engineering, at least. It had nothing to do with the Department of Homeland Security, because we didn't have one then, and it had nothing to do with torture because in my halcyon teen days, torturers were universally known to be the bad guys. We had room to be angry teenagers, cynical Gen Xers, without someone bringing up how the terrorists would win if we didn't straighten up and fly right. And I am so immensely sorry that my dear K and her equally dear just-younger sibs are coming of age in a world where that's not true.
This is not a book that hides what it's actually saying under coy name changes: the US Department of Homeland Security is called the US Department of Homeland Security, not the "Federal Department of Protecting the Motherland, country unspecified." If you are looking for a book that lets you pretend we're talking about something else, somewhere else, this is not that book. Nor should it be.
It is ultimately a very hopeful book: hopeful about human ingenuity, hopeful about human freedoms, hopeful about communities and not just about individuals, while recognizing that communities are made up of individuals. It has an ear for teen dialog. It has a nose for San Francisco life -- if anybody can tell me where to get burritos like that here in the Twin Cities, I will be in your debt, because they're one of the things I miss generically (rather than House of Nanking in specific, say, or other individual places like that). And it has a distinct feel for family life that understands the adult perspective without assuming that it's always right. This is the right book at the right time.
I'm just sorry that we didn't manage to make this into some other time instead.