The Doubt Factory

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Doubt Factory Book Poster Image
Eye-opening high-tech thriller endorses activism.

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Kids say

age 12+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Doubt Factory raises tough questions about the business of public relations and product defense. The author uses real-life cases of unsafe products -- aspirin, BPA plastics, and microwave popcorn -- to illustrate how consumers can be hurt by the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Positive Messages

The Doubt Factory argues that public relations firms should not be allowed to spread doubt about well-established science. It demonstrates how the truth can be silenced by corporations interested more in profit than in the welfare of their customers. The book endorses acts of rebellion that may not always be legal, including kidnapping, breaking and entering, electronic surveillance, and releasing lab rats.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alix Banks begins the novel assuming that there's nothing unusual in her affluent suburban lifestyle and that her family deserves the wealth they enjoy. But when she's stalked by a group of teenage activists, she learns that much of what she believes about her parents and herself is a lie. The Doubt Factory chronicles her attempt to come to grips with this realization.

Violence

The Doubt Factory is not particularly violent until its climactic scene, when the well-armed villains decide to use lethal force against Alix and her compatriots.

Sex

Alix eventually begins a romance with Moses, and it's clear that their relationship is physically intimate. Not too many details are given, but they are embarrassed to learn that their lovemaking has been overheard through a security system.

Language

Numerous uses of "f--k," "s--t," "damn," and "hell."

Consumerism

The Doubt Factory mentions real-life products that have been demonstrated to be harmful to consumers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alix and her friend attend a rave, arriving drunk and ingesting unknown drugs during the party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Paolo Bacigalupi'The Doubt Factory is a contemporary thriller about teen hackers battling the public relations companies who hide the misdoings of major corporations. Some readers (or their parents) may object to the tactics of the teen activists, including kidnapping, breaking and entering, electronic surveillance, and releasing lab rats. Language is strong throughout, with many instances of "f--k," "s--t," "hell," and "damn." Alix and Moses begin dating and develop a sexual relationship, the details of which are left to the imagination. Alix and a friend arrive at a party drunk and ingest a drug similar to Ecstasy.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byspiderwomxn May 28, 2018

Good Book, Great Messages

This book is a bit complex, but suitable for tweens. Encourages standing up for what is right and activism.

What's the story?

Seventeen-year-old Alix Baker is focused on finishing her time at a swanky private high school and then heading off for college. But her life is upended by a gang of teen hackers and pranksters who harbor a grudge against her father, the head of a hugely successful public relations firm. They claim that her dad's firm makes millions of dollars by hampering any inquiry into the safety of their clients' food and drug products. Alix must decide whether to stand up for the conscientious parent who loves and provides for her or to brand her father a criminal, based on evidence gathered by teen activists.

Is it any good?

THE DOUBT FACTORY explores an aspect of corporate America that doesn't receive a lot of attention, especially in fiction aimed at young adults. Author Paolo Bacigalupi uses real-life cases of harmful products as a springboard for an unusual thriller about the distortion of public information for monetary gain. Alix's journey from sheltered private school senior to rebellious activist is believable and nuanced. Some readers (or their parents) may object to some of the methods Moses and his band of teen activists take, but many more are likely to be intrigued by the issues raised in this morally complex work of fiction.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how public perceptions are manipulated by public relations, crisis management, and product-defense firms. Can you think of any examples of a corporation misleading the public about a product?

  • What makes a good thriller? How does The Doubt Factory compare with others you've read?

  • What can the average person do to protect him- or herself from electronic surveillance?

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