One of the most interesting things happening in the field of young adult literature is the “rewriting” of canonical classics for a young adult audience. The most deliberate of these rewrites is probably Jake Reinvented by Gordon Korman, a retelling of The Great Gatsby in high school setting. In Korman’s work, characters parallel Fitzgerald’s in allegorical ways: Jay Gatsby is Jake Garret; Daisy is renamed Didi, and the story is narrated by Rick, not Nick. Other young adult authors have taken up themes inspired by classic works: Feed by M.T. Anderson compares well to Huxley’s Brave New World in its critique of consumerism, class consciousness, and hedonism. In this camp I would also put Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, which owes its existence to 1984 by George Orwell.
In Little Brother, a terrorist attack on the Bay Bridge prompts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to institute a wide-ranging surveillance system:citizens are tracked through their cell phones, expressway passes, subway passes, and Internet use. The protagonist, Marcus Yallow, is an accomplished hacker and is immediately imprisoned for suspicious activity following the terrorist attack, along with his three friends. The plot revolves around Marcus’ release from prison and covert war on the DHS, waged though a series of ingenious hacks on the ubiquitous surveillance mechanisms.
If you think the book sounds like a critique of the current administration’s war on terror, you are dead on. The novel has a very contemporary feel (with references to Craigslist, Wikipedia, and Doctorow’s own Electronic Frontier Foundation) and provides a great way to bring 1984 into the 21st century–not that it needs any help, of course. I highly recommend this compelling novel as a companion to Orwell’s novel, or on its own merit.
Update: You can download Little Brother here for free. And you can download 1984 from Project Gutenberg Australia. So, theoretically, you could teach a killer unit pairing these two texts without costing your students a penny. I love the Internets.