It is impossible to discuss Season 1 of USA Network’s Mr. Robot without unleashing a wave of expletives, so let me first get aside all of my shock from those final episodes and my desperation for the new season to begin after months of waiting:
Okay, now that that’s done, let’s talk about the show.
Mr. Robot follows Elliot Alderson, an antisocial vigilante who joins a group of hacktivists bent on cancelling debts owed to giant corporations like the fictional E Corp, the source of Elliot’s fascination. But something is off about the hacktivist group Elliot works for and, more to the point, about Elliot’s own life, and the first ten episodes are riddled with intricate plot twists that will keep you staring in disbelief at your TV screen long after the season ends. Mr. Robot is so impressive because it seamlessly intertwines two storylines: one that examines the world of hacking and social activism, and another that probes Elliot’s own psychology, especially his perception of reality. It is both a fascinating—and, for once, realistic—look into the world of hacking and a psychological thriller that will surprise even self-professed experts at guessing plot twists.
There aren’t many TV shows like Mr. Robot, but—luckily—there are some excellent YA thrillers that explore similar themes. Here are six YA books for Mr. Robot fans to read between episodes. Like the show, they’re either twisty, psychological thrillers, explorations into the complicated world of hacking, or, in some cases, both.
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
When terrorists bomb the San Francisco Bay Bridge, fear sweeps the nation, and law enforcement takes aggressive action to find the culprit of the attack. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, teenage hacking prodigy Marcus and his friends are detained by the Department of Homeland Security and interrogated in secret. But when Marcus is released, and his best friend remains locked inside the secret prison, Marcus decides to use his hacking abilities to break into the DHHS—and, in the process, both save his friend and keep his country from becoming a police state. A book that grapples with the power of fear and the role of vigilantes in a larger arc of justice, Little Brother has numerous echoes of Mr. Robot.
Don’t Turn Around, by Michelle Gagnon
Noa, a lone wolf hacker much like Elliot Alderson, has led an isolated life since the death of her parents, cheating the foster care system by creating an online trail of a fake family that doesn’t actually exist. But when she wakes up in a warehouse, on an operating table, with a giant scar stretching across her chest and no memory of how she got there, Noa finds herself on the run—and, with the help of Peter, a leader of a hacker alliance, she must stop the corrupt corporation that has been threatening both of their lives. This setup—an antisocial hacker joins a hacktivist group in order to take down a corporation they believe has grown too powerful—has Mr. Robot written all over it.
Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas
Want a book that messes with your mind the way the reveals in Mr. Robot did? Look no further than Dangerous Girls. Anna is stuck in a country that isn’t her own, on trial for the murder of her best friend, Elise. After their spring break trip to Aruba goes horribly wrong, Elise winds up dead, and Anna goes searching for Elise’s killer—until the finger is pointed at Anna herself. Dangerous Girls is told from Anna’s point of view before and after the murder: it entwines the events prior to Elise’s death with Anna’s life while on trial, gradually revealing the truth of what happened that night. The conclusion will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew.
We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
Another in the “HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST HAPPENED IS THIS REAL” genre, We Were Liars made a splash when it was released two years ago because of its thrilling, unreliable narrative. Like Mr. Robot it’s one of those stories where the less that is said, the better—but it involves a large rich family whose lives aren’t as perfect as they present them, and who, every summer, vacation together on a remote island. Tragedy strikes, but nothing is as it seems. Propelled by Lockhart’s atmospheric, often unsettling prose, We Were Liars is perfect for anyone who wants to puzzle through a complicated plot while waiting for the full story behind Mr. Robot and Elliot to be revealed.
Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Kady’s planet is under attack. In the year 2575, two giant corporations are battling over ownership of her homeland and the illegal mining operation happening, and Kady and Ezra—the boyfriend she just broke up with—have no choice but to board a decrepit spaceship evacuating residents before their planet is destroyed. But a virus has broken out onboard the ship, and AIDAN, a sentient AI, might be the only thing that can protect the crew—and Kady, a talented hacker, is the only person who can communicate with the AI. Told through IMs, interviews, and hacked schematics, Illuminae follows Kady as she uses her hacking abilities to uncover the mysteries of what is happening to her planet and, in the process, to save the lives of everyone on board the spaceship. (Related: you can find more great books featuring female hackers/coders here.)
The Silence of Six, by E.C. Myers
The U.S. election is weeks away, and during one of the final presidential debates, a hacker named ST0P breaks into the television broadcast and plays a video question for the two candidates. In it, a boy in a hoodie utters the words, “What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?” before killing himself onscreen. To his horror, Max, himself a hacker, realizes the boy was his best friend. This sets off a series of events that sends Max on the run from powerful government forces, desperate to uncover the conspiracy that led to his best friend’s suicide. The Silence of Six, perhaps more so than any YA book I know of, is the perfect read for anyone who wants a book like Mr. Robot. Its exploration of the underground world of hacktivism is reminiscent of Elliot’s world, and, like the show, it grapples with larger questions about society in the modern age—in this case, about the role of privacy and government security in a digital world.
The Silence of Six is also uniquely multimedia: it has its own YouTube channel, which ties in directly with the plot of the novel and includes congressional hearings, protests, and hacker PSAs similar to those from fsociety.