The Doubt Factory: A socially-conscious YA thriller

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The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s most recent stand-alone novel is a modern day young adult thriller. It’s about a rich girl named Alix who attends an elite highschool (uh oh, it’s already starting off wrong for me) who meets a mysterious sexy bad boy (oh gosh) who leads a diverse gang of socially conscious teenage vandals (ugh) who hope to change the world by taking down a public relations company that works for industries like Big Pharma. They hope to do this by stalking Alix and showing her how bad her father, one of the owners of the company, is.

At first Alix, after she finally figures out what the mystery stalker is all about, isn’t willing to believe that her father, a man who takes such good care of his family, could be so cold-hearted toward the rest of the world. Ah, but Alix has the hots for the sexy bad boy stalker (it wouldn’t be a YA novel otherwise), so she begins to investigate his claim. Could her awesome father be such a villain? And, if so, should she blow the whistle?

Up to this point I have loved everything I’ve read by Paolo Bacigalupi. His excellent story collection Pump Six and Other Stories is one of my favorite collections because it’s full of unique and fascinating stories. The Doubt Factory, on the other hand, doesn’t live up to my expectations because of its clichéd YA tropes and its heavy-handed message. However, it’s exciting and I may still find myself recommending the book to my Research Methods students because it sheds light on important issues that I care and teach about: how industries such as Big Pharma are able to confuse “truth” in such a way as to either get dangerous products on the market or delay getting them removed. Sometimes they use shoddy research techniques, biased reporting, shameless lobbying and deceitful advertising, all to make money off an ignorant populace. All they have to do, as the title of Bacigalupi’s book suggests, is to create doubt. The people who do this may be very nice people who are just doing what their job requires. Bacigalupi asks at what point we should hold them personally accountable and shows us that even a teenage girl can make a difference.

I like this message, but wish it had been delivered with more nuance. After finishing The Doubt Factory, I had learned something, but I felt like I’d been flattened with a steamroller. And I definitely could have done without all the icky teenage stalker bits. Alix lets the stalker into her house at night, goes to meet him in an abandoned factory, gets in his car, and other things…. I thought she was stupid. Meanwhile Sexy Stalker thinks she’s amazing, not a “sheep” like all the other girls, and that she’s going to change the world. His evidence is that when confronted with the news about her father, she starts Googling to find out the truth. I feel like Bacigalupi doesn’t give teenage girls enough credit if he thinks that’s all it takes to make a girl stand out from the crowd.

So, while I appreciated Bacigalupi’s Message, and while I admit that the story will be educational and probably thrilling for most teenage readers, I wished for less typical YA drama and more subtlety. I may recommend the book to my students because of the Message about research ethics, but not to my kids because sleeping with your stalker just isn’t cool.

I listened to Listening Library’s audio version of The Doubt Factory which is 12 hours long and read by Emma Galvin. Ms Galvin gave a terrific performance. Her voices and pacing were excellent. If you plan to read The Doubt Factory, I recommend this version.

Publication Date: October 14, 2014. In this page-turning contemporary thriller, National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestselling author Paolo Bacigalupi explores the timely issue of how public information is distorted for monetary gain, and how those who exploit it must be stopped. Everything Alix knows about her life is a lie. At least that’s what a mysterious young man who’s stalking her keeps saying. But then she begins investigating the disturbing claims he makes against her father. Could her dad really be at the helm of a firm that distorts the truth and covers up wrongdoing by hugely profitable corporations that have allowed innocent victims to die? Is it possible that her father is the bad guy, and that the undeniably alluring criminal who calls himself Moses–and his radical band of teen activists–is right? Alix has to make a choice, and time is running out, but can she truly risk everything and blow the whistle on the man who loves her and raised her?

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. Matt W /

    Thanks for the review. This book has been on my reading queue, mostly because I thought Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities were great. I’ve been somewhat wary of Bacigalupi, however, after reading a few thoughtful reviews of The Windup Girl that made me re-consider my favorable impression of that book. I think I might skip this one.

  2. I really should read Pump Six. I had very mixed reactions to The Windup Girl although I thought his worldbuilding was excellent. I’ll probably pass on this one. Thanks for the review, Kat.

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