Book Review: The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

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After thoroughly enjoying several of Paolo Bacigalupi’s books geared toward adults, I decided to read his “Young Adult” books, including The Doubt Factory.

The Doubt Factory definitely has a YA feel. But even as a not-quite-young adult, I really enjoyed it. And the political themes it explores are highly relevant for people of all ages.

The Doubt Factory follows the story of a high school student who crosses path with a political prankster. She finds this mysterious young man intriguing and tries to understand both the man himself and the meaning of his activism. She soon finds herself at the center of an underground group’s struggle to expose corporate crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable.

There are two aspects of this novel that some readers may not like. One is the Young Adult themes. It does predominantly feature teenage characters, and they do encounter some of the coming-of-age drama (forbidden romance, struggles with parents, etc.) that are defining characteristic of the genre. There’s also one part of the second half of the novel where the main character is researching corporate crimes and the reader is following along with their research, learning real-life facts about corporate malfeasance and (hopefully) following the main character to the same unsettling conclusions.

I can see why some older readers would find the teen romance angle a bit cheesy, or why some “apolitical” readers (who are privileged enough to feel comfortable avoiding political topics) would find the research subplot a bit dry and preachy. But these are actually two of the main reasons why I like this book.

I rarely read fiction that’s solidly in the YA genre, and it’s exciting to get swept up in the characters’ youthful enthusiasm and angsty tension-building. I’m also really glad that the author is introducing some real-life information about corporate corruption as a central plot element. A lot of YA fiction constructs elaborate (or not so elaborate) fictional dystopias for their characters to grapple with. But the Doubt Factory teases out dystopian aspects of the real world and turns them into an exciting page-turner geared toward young audiences. This gives readers an excellent opportunity to enjoy a compelling story while learning something important about the real world along the way. The details of real-life corporate crime become like clues in a suspense/mystery plot, shaking the main character’s core beliefs and driving the plot in a whole new direction.

If you like good YA fiction, you’ll love The Doubt Factory. And if you really don’t like YA fiction, that’s fine. Feel free to skip this one. But share the Doubt Factory with your friends who are open to YA, especially young adults who are still learning about themselves and the world they live in. It’s an enjoyable read and a powerful introduction to the way that corporate propaganda works in real life. I feel like the world will be a better place in a decade or two if more young people read this book and learn from the experience.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois where I write books and volunteer for the Illinois Initiative and Gaia House.

Posted in Book Reviews, Politics

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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