Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Doubt Factory is a YA thriller that is long on lesson, riddled with romance, and occasionally over-the-top with its action.
For those of us familiar with Bacigalupi from his sci-fi books The Windup Girl and Pump Six and Other Stories, this book is definitely a departure, though it’s definitely not unusual for an author to cross genres or target audiences. I do think it’s important to note, however, that readers who love his sci-fi, might be very disappointed.
How do you write a book that you want to read like a Hollywood blockbuster and you want to hit home a message? This might be the textbook example.
Alix Banks attends a private academy, on her way to an Ivy League college once she graduates high school. She’s mostly a typical, wealthy young lady, not too different from all the other co-eds at the school. Except that she’s being stalked. Alix notices the African-American man in the school courtyard staring at her, looking very much out of place. But rather than being scared, Alix is curious, and perhaps just a little bit attracted to the young man. But the young man, known as ‘2.0’ when he’s creating havoc against businesses, has plans for Alix.
2.0 (also known as Moses) kidnaps Alix to get her father’s attention and, because Moses believes that she isn’t the simpering airhead that most of her classmates are, he’s hoping that she’ll come to understand and even believe in his cause. Moses is fighting against big businesses and medical companies that put unsafe drugs on the market. His coterie of cohorts are all youths, like himself, who have lost family (or even parts of themselves) to unsafe drugs. Moses admits to Alix that they were all recipients of a class-action settlement, but no amount of money can replace a parent, and many of the companies still have their drugs on the market.
And how does Alix fit in to all this?
Alix’s father runs a company known in specific, small circles, as The Doubt Factory. His job is to confuse the courts and the media. To plant enough doubt about the safety of a product, with purchased testimony from scientists and others, that the big businesses can keep their materials on the market. If Moses can gain access to Mr. Banks’ files, he believes his can find proof of the obfuscation and bring the crimes to light. But for Alix it means turning her back on everything she believed in, including her father, and trusting the word of a man who kidnapped her.
The book is a relatively quick and easy read, and there is plenty of action and teen-appropriate thrills. And while the message about how big companies get away with murder (literally) is important, and certain to rile up our youth, I did feel that this book was extremely didactic in this sense, hitting us over the head with the message.
I also never ever bought the relationship between Moses and Alix. I never understood what either saw in the other, and while we often hear that opposites attract, and these two couldn’t be much more opposite, the attraction was just never there. And without the attraction, we also have a hard time buying in to Alix’s actions and motivations.
I’ve read elsewhere that this reads like a made-for-tv movie, and I would have to agree. It moves from moment to moment without a lot of investment into the characters.
I mildly enjoyed the read while in it, but it doesn’t last long and it falls apart when you think too much about it.
Looking for a good book? Teens looking for a ’cause’ to fight for, might well buy in to this YA thriller, The Doubt Factory, by Paolo Bacigalupi.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
* * * * * *
The Doubt Factory
author: Paolo Bacigalupi
publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
hardcover, 496 pages