The Doubt FactoryThe Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

well, altho i adored The Windup Girl, the truth is i’m not a big YA fan. this one is i suspect a lot better than many YA novels, but it’s still a YA novel, in that the plot hinges on smart, adept young ‘uns outsmarting whole armies (in this case, almost literally) of adults. as in, having hacker-beyond-the-FBI-level skills. can outwit mercenary troops. stylish enough to make eyeballs water. etc.

having had teenagers around me quite a bit in years not so far gone by, i can say that yes, they are in fact that clever, but no, they are not that dedicated.

but! it’s a YA novel. so one accepts that as a given, i suppose.

in this book, our heroine gets her somnolent eyes opened to her father’s smarmy occupation by a merry band of tricksters. daddy is a professional obfuscator, paid to keep corporate tushies out of hot water of their own creation. (who knows what mother is… she’s never much in the book except a few mommy-nagging lines. anyway.) what’s a firecracker girl to do? go buy another pair of Jimmy Choos and go back to sleep, or join the tricksters?

for the most part the plot ticks along nicely and more or less believably. each of the tricksters is well painted, etc etc. the story of real-life corporate PR flacks is one teens need to hear, so in general, the book’s all to the good.

but, but.

spoilers are ahead, so don’t read on if you plan to read the book.

well, this part isn’t a spoiler, it’s a complaint. why, in a book about corporate disinformation mills and sleazy promotion practices, does nobody ever have a soda? they have a Diet Coke. they never have coffee, they have a Starbucks skinny latte. they play on the Xbox, they wear Jimmy Choos. the last time i clocked this level of product placement was in a Stephen King novel (he wins the award still, for having an O-Cello mop instead of just a fucking mop). i hate this shit in a novel–it tosses me right out of the world. if you gotta do it to make a character point in a quick, shorthand fashion, ok if you must (Charlie drinks Bud, his brother Zeke prefers absinthe, spoon and sugar and all). it’s cheating, but ok. in this novel, though, there’s not one point made by a product choice that wasn’t already made elsewhere in the book.

second, and this one is irking me at a subcutaneous level: why do they have to kidnap Alix? and why after does she fall in love with her kidnapper?

ya, i get it, Alix is smart and tough and blah blah blah. then Moses thoroughly disrespects everything about her by having her kidnapped, and she falls in love with him? why not just try to talk to Alix, if she needs eye-opening? what’s so wrong about appealing to rationality? are women not rational? can we not be persuaded by a cogent argument? why begin with force?

that’s disturbing. what the hell kind of message is that for the teenaged girls who are 50% of this book’s target audience?!? kind of… skin-crawling, that.