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  • July 2020
    M T W T F S S

When a government can shut off the internet…

At the very end of November, as part of its ongoing bloody and brutal civil war, Syria’s government shut down the internet for the entire country.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, this was an “unprecedented” event.  The move led to more riots against the regime, not less, and the government blamed unidentified “terrorists”.

By Ronald Eikelenboom (Flickr: (no) internet) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ronald Eikelenboom (Flickr: (no) internet) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Shutting down a nation’s internet service is unprecedented because goes against the history of how the internet was developed.  Although the internet predecessors ARPANET and DARPA were government projects, the theory of the internet, grown in the 60s (a fuller, more specific history can be read here) was based on the idea that it would be a network of “multiple independent networks of rather arbitrary design” with one of its groud rules being that “there would be no global control at the operations level.” (Quotes from The Internet Society, “Brief History of the Internet”)  This was practical – if another country attacked the U.S., it could not take out its networked communications all at once.

And yet, now Syria just did the same thing to itself!

Ideas of how networked technology can be manipulated– and the power it gives people and governments– have been popping up in excellent books for a long time.  Here are some good ones that are recently published.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson


a story of an elite hacker living in an unnamed Middle Eastern state in the throes of political upheaval. He gets involved with the wrong girl, who sends him a very old book to keep safe, and he learns the hard way about worlds beyond this one, jinn, and if he really wants to figure out what he believes in.

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir & Khalil


Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has disappeared in the Islamic Republic’s gulags. Mehdi has vanished in an extrajudicial twilight zone where habeas corpus is suspended. What stops his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of a mother who refuses to surrender her son to fate and the tenacity of a brother—a blogger—who fuses culture and technology to explore and explode absence: the void in which Mehdi has vanished.” – from the book’s website

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow


After being interrogated for days by the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco, California, seventeen-year-old Marcus, released into what is now a police state, decides to use his expertise in computer hacking to set things right.

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner


Las Vegas is gone—destroyed in a terrorist attack. Black Hawk helicopters patrol the skies over New York City. And immersive online gaming is the most dangerous street drug around. In this dystopic near-future, technology has leapt forward once again, and neuro-headsets have replaced computer keyboards. Just slip on a headset, and it’s the Internet at the speed of thought. For teen hacker Sam Wilson, a headset is a must. But as he becomes familiar with the new technology, he has a terrifying realization. If anything on his computer is vulnerable to a hack, what happens when his mind is linked to the system? – from Google Books synopsis

– Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

Teen Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Samantha – Hi! I’m a 7th grader and really excited to be blogging. I LOVE to read and write so I’m most likely going to have a lot of posts. I’ll give you the most honest reviews possible. I hope you read them!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In the future, in the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, no one reads books (which I can’t imagine), and firemen start fires to burn books instead of stopping them. A fireman named Guy Montag has never really thought about the books he burns, until one night one woman loved her books so much that she told the firemen that if they were going to burn her books they would have to burn her too. That got Montag thinking. What was in these books that caused people to die rather than live without them? He thought about that so much he decided to steal a book and read it. Then he saw what that woman saw in her books.

But then he got caught, in the exact same way. If you decide to read this book and like it as much as I did, you can see the play at Prime Stage Theatre.

I saw the play A Wrinkle In Time there in the spring, and it was really good so I also advise you to see all of the plays they will be showing this year:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Nov 2 – Nov 11, 2012
Directed by Justin Fortunato

His fear in 1953 was that television would kill books. Bradbury imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings. Televisions “walls” and its actors as “family.”   Has his Science Fiction become our Fact?

The Great Gatsby
Mar 1 – Mar 10, 2013
adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel by Peter Joucla of Tour de Force Theatre, UK.
Directed by Richard Keitel

“This new stage adaptation is filled with live jazz music to recreate the glitz and decadence of the Roaring 20’s. Gatsby’s motives are driven by love and hope, rather than greed. The absorbing drama is fast-paced, visually evocative and highly theatrical.”  Theatre Basil, Switzerland.

Walk Two Moons
May 10 – May 19, 2013
adapted by Tom Arvetis, based on Newbery Award book by Sharon Creech
Directed by Lisa Ann Goldsmith

“Flawlessly adapted, Walk Two Moons challenges audiences to look outward into a world where everyone has the immense power to help one another. Walk Two Moons has a poignant, valuable message for audiences of every age.” – ChicagoBeat.

Teen Review: Matched by Allyson Condie

My name is Jenna. I go to a high school where I’m part of the marching band and the cheerleading squad. I’m pretty busy, but I always find time to read. I’m also very creative and I like doing little crafts out of random things I find.

Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia was so excited for her Matching ceremony. She’s been restlessly waiting for 17 years for this day to come. The Matching ceremony is when she will know who she has been ‘matched’ with. Who she will marry, who she will have kids with, and who she will spend the rest of her life with. Who she is matched with is of course decided by the Society. Every single decision is made by the Society.

When the day comes, Cassia and everyone at the ceremony become utterly surprised when they see that Cassia’s match is her best friend, Xander. It is extremely uncommon that the two matches already know each other, so the two best friends become sort of celebrities.

At the ceremony, every Matched girl/boy receives a card that holds more information on their match. When Cassia entered her card about her match, instead of seeing Xander’s face and facts, a different face appears on the screen…Ky Markham’s.

Ky was just a mutual friend of Cassia and Xander, but now that Cassia has seen Ky’s face on her Match card, she can’t stop thinking about him. She’s suddenly doubting everything the Society stood for. She doesn’t want all of her decisions to be made for her anymore, especially when it comes to whom she loves.

Cassia learns more and more about the world she lives in and in return learns more about herself and about the person she truly loves, Ky.

This book is interesting because it was about a young girl completely going against everything she’s ever known. The love story in it is sweet and cute, but most of the characters are rather one dimensional. Overall, this book would be rated a 3/5.

Teen review (modern classic edition) : The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My name is Jenna. I go to a high school where I’m part of the marching band and the cheerleading squad. I’m pretty busy, but I always find time to read. I’m also very creative and I like doing little crafts out of random things I find.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I decided to read the Hunger Games because I kept hearing how good of a book it was. When I first read the description, I didn’t think I would even like it or actually end up reading the book. This book definitely deserves all of the hype it’s getting because it’s an excellent story!

Katniss Everdeen is the main character. She lives in District 12, the poorest district of all 12 districts. They are the coal-mining district, and they are looked down upon by the rest of Panem (their country). She is a very independent girl. Katniss is the one who takes care of her mother and sister by hunting illegally in the woods and trading what she hunts for items that she can put on the table at dinnertime. She is rough and probably stronger than most boys in her district.

But, the Hunger Games is right around the corner. Every year, two tributes from each of the 12 districts of Panem, 24 kids in all, are taken from their homes and put into a game where they have to kill each other to win. Whoever is the last person standing, wins, and becomes rich after. And the whole thing is broadcast on television throughout Panem.

Against all odds, Katniss’ little sister is picked to participate in the Hunger Games, and Katniss is so surprised and appalled that she offered to take her sister’s place.

Throughout the book, you are taken on this crazy wild journey to the Hunger Games with Katniss and the other District 12 tribute, Peeta. Read the book to experience the frightening and fast-paced game that these two teens have to go through.

Teen review: Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd

My name’s Leo. I’m a tenth grader at Pittsburgh Obama Academy 6-12 (Also known as IB High and formerly Schenley). I’m a gender-queer, lesbian, mentally ill writer. I’ll be reviewing books, with occasional graphic novels and music — I mostly read fantasy and horror, and listen to various forms of rock.

Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd

Eighteen year old Laura Brown lives in a world of carbon rationing, global water crisis, and vicious government crackdowns – in a London just six years into our future. She tries to focus on uni and her band, but there’s only so much she can ignore before she has to join the rising activist movement – or she won’t be able to live with herself.

This book is apparently second in a series – Carbon Diaries 2015 being the first one – but I picked it up without knowing that and I think I understood it fine. It’s very well written if you like diary format, although with the continuity problem of “how is she remembering all these conversations word-for-word.” That probably only bothers me.

It makes for extremely depressing reading. The London government gradually spirals out of control in a realistic manner, there are scenes of police brutality and extreme poverty, and (minor spoiler) France’s Neo-Nazi wins the election while Laura is there.

Don’t read this if you’re bothered by politics or have something against punkers, but otherwise, this is well written, and it does have a hopeful ending. The one real problem with the writing is that it takes a very long time to get to the point – typical of diary format, I’ve found.

Good News about Dystopias



Dys + (u)topia.  According to www.dictionary.com  (Based on The American Heritage Dictionary, 2009), a dystopia is “an imaginary place…where life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.” So why would anyone want to read about them? What makes them – actually – fascinating? 

If they’re  like the books on the list put together by bibliokaren a few months ago https://clpteensburgh.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/give-it-up-for-the-giver/, they quicken the blood, give you an edge and alertness. They  distract you from  other pressures. Their main characters’ survive  and, maybe overcome, horrfic conditions, even if in some limited way.  Since Katniss or Matt or  Jonah can live with dignity through the end of the world as we know it or a tyrranical government that tortures or puts teenagers to death; we can handle hard times too.  If they can face ambiguity and temptation, so can we. Any kindness in the midst of so much inhumanity,  makes us hopeful and hopefully kinder ourselves.

UgliesThere’s some good news in the world of dystopias. First of all, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld  is now available as a download: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/08/06/scott-westerfelds-as.htmlabout. Use it to read about  Tally, who can’t wait to be made gorgeous through mandatory cosmetic surgery on her 16th birthday. When the powers-that-be send her to retrieve a friend who’s escaped, she learns about an alternative life. 

Hungar GamesCatching Fire, sequel to Susan Collins’ Hunger Games, will be out in September.  Haven’t read Hunger Games? Do so immediately! Besides a dystopia, it’s a love story. Katniss volunteers to replace her younger sister for The Hunger Games, a televised to-the-death battle among 11 to 18-year-olds from twelve districts. Peeta, who loves her, is determined to ensure she’s the victor. Katniss pretends to love  Peeta, despite a relationship  at home with Gale. Although this wins over their audience, it confuses Katniss as she struggles to keep herself –and Peeta–alive.  

Catching FireCatching Fire continues where The Hunger Games leaves off. This time, Katniss faces worse threats as she competes against  victors from other years as well as becomes a symbol of rebellion against the Capitol.

I’ve found it almost impossible to put down the advanced copy I’m reading–its characters and situations are so vivid and full of life even as death surrounds them.  If you’ve read Hunger Games,  put yourself on the waiting list for Catching Fire. If you haven’t devoured Hunger Games, shut off this blog and get it out. Now.

Then write me to let me know if you agree with me that  Hunger Games and Catching Fire are two of the best books of  last year and this.

Give it up for “The Giver”!

Each year, the Allegheny Carnegie Library Association selects one book that will be widely read throughout the community — or, “One Book, One Community.”  This year’s selection is Lois Lowry‘s classic dystopic novel for teens, The Giver.  If you’re not familiar with The Giver, here’s the description from our catalog: ” Given his lifetime assignment at the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas becomes the receiver of memories shared by only one other in his community and discovers the terrible truth about the society in which he lives.”

The Giver is a fantastic book, and one that many of you are likely familiar with since it’s required reading at Pittsburgh Public Schools.  If you find yourself looking for additional books with similiar themes, here are a few you might enjoy:

pelly1Adlington, L.J
The Diary of Pelly D

When Toni V, a construction worker on a futuristic colony, finds the diary of a teenage girl whose life has been turned upside-down by holocaust-like events, he begins to question his own beliefs.

    feedAnderson, M.T.

    In a future where most people have computer implants in their heads to control their environment, a boy meets an unusual girl who is in serious trouble.

      hungergamesCollins, Suzanne
      The Hunger Games

      In a future North America, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in an annual survival competition in which teens fight each other — to the death.

        littlebrotherDoctorow, Cory
        Little Brother

        After being interrogated for days by the Department of Homeland Security, seventeen-year-old Marcus decides to use his expertise in computer hacking to set things right.

        cityofemberDuPrau, Jeanne
        City of Ember

        In the year 241, twelve-year-old Lina trades jobs on
        Assignment Day to be a Messenger to run to new places in her
        decaying but beloved city.

        houseofthescorpionFarmer, Nancy
        House of the Scorpion

        In a future where humans despise clones, Matt enjoys special
        status as the young clone of El Patrón, the 142-year-old leader
        of a corrupt drug empire.

        othersideoftheisland Goodman, Allegra
        The Other Side of the Island

        Born in the eighth year of Enclosure, ten-year-old Honor lives
        in a highly regulated colony with her defiant parents, but when
        they are taken away, it is up to Honor  to uncover a terrible secret about their Island and the Corporation that runs everything.

        declarationMalley, Gemma
        The Declaration

        In 2140 England, where drugs enable people to live forever and
        children are illegal, teenaged Anna, an obedient “Surplus”
        training to become a house servant, discovers that her birth parents are trying to find her.

        zforzachariahO’Brien, Robert
        Z for Zachariah

        Seemingly the only person left alive after a nuclear war, a
        sixteen-year-old girl is relieved to see a man arrive into her
        valley until she realizes that he is a tyrant and she must  escape.

        lifeasweknewitPfeffer, Susan Beth
        Life As We Knew It

        Through journal entries sixteen-year-old Miranda describes
        her struggle to survive after a meteor hits the moon, causing
        worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

        unwindShusterman, Neil

        In a future world where those between the ages of thirteen and
        eighteen can have their lives “unwound” and their body parts
        harvested for use by others, three teens go to extreme lengths to uphold their beliefs–and, perhaps, save their own lives.

        ugliesWesterfeld, Scott
        The Uglies

        Tally can’t wait until her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be
        made supermodel gorgeous.  When she’s sent to the Smoke to
        bring back a runaway friend, however, she learns that being pretty might not be the mosti mportant thing in the world.

        Is reading about dystopias not enough for you? There are a lot of opportunities in April for you to write, think and talk about The Giver and explore your ideas about the future. Continue reading

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