This book...I don't know what to make of this book.
Paolo Bacigalupi is someone I've always thought I should read more of. I loved Ship Breaker; I really want to get to The Drowned Cities sometime soon. The first few pages of The Windup Girl and was a bit overwhelmed by the world building, so I never finished reading it, but I've begun to suspect that that's a shame and I should really give it a try.
So I was excited to read an ARC of The Doubt Factory from Netgalley. (As of this writing, the book's not out yet, so the links go to the free Kindle preview of the book.) And it confirms my belief that Bacigalupi is a writer I like, even while I can't say I love the book.
How do I feel about it? Well, it's definitely not bad. I would say that the first half suffered a little from being dragged out, and I have a guess about that--the pacing of the setup is very much the pacing of a world with a lot of building to do. This is the first Bacigalupi book that takes place in the here-and-now, and the amount of time spent setting up Alix and her privileged life at her fancy boarding school and happy family is more appropriate to the setup of a world like Ship Breaker, where we need to spend pages on the characters' day-to-day patterns of living because they are so very unfamiliar, and they are the only way we'll come to understand the character.
This book, on the other hand, is an Issue Book (I wish I could remember/find the blog I read that reviewed it recently, because it pointed this out very neatly), and as such it depends on the reality of the world it takes place in. So all that world building and scene setting starts to feel like back story, and the fact that the actual Point of the book (and the Point of this book has a capital P) is kind of teased for a long time without being explicit starts to become a weakness before that aspect of the storytelling plays itself out.
(Note that the rest of this review will be a little spoilery thematically, though not plot-wise.)
Not that the action doesn't start out right away. We begin when Alix, gazing idly out the window of her upper-crust prep school chem lab, sees a guy staring up at the building. When the principal approaches the guy, he punches him. The students are intrigued, but that's about it.
Then we spend some time in Alix's life, and there's another incident at school, and Alix realizes that this guy--this group--is targeting her. Her family gets protection, law enforcement gets involved, and eventually we come around to the Point, and the Issue of this Issue book.
The issue is about how big corporations seriously screw the little guy. It's about how regulation is inadequate, and business is amoral, and products (especially drugs) are not sufficiently safe, and people make tons of money with lies. Think Big Tobacco. Not just ignorance, but lies.
Now, these are things I believe to be true. Is this a factor of me being an adult reading a YA book? I know this is how the world works, and I have no doubt about it. But it makes the book a little heartbreaking to read, because I feel like I already know the ending--we are not going to bring down corporate America or our fabulous "capitalism as morality" system with one big movement. The book even makes the point that people who see and point out the "conspiracy" are labeled as nuts, even when they are and can be proven objectively right.
So I feel like this book was trying to open my eyes and mind to an idea that I've already thought about a lot and found an uneasy truce with. This is a place where a teenager might be motivated to action, or taught a healthy and constructive cynicism, but where I, a (let's admit it) middle aged lady, am left kind of deflated by my inability to connect with the characters' sense of hope.
When it comes down to the story--the characters, the plot--it's very well-told, and I loved a lot of the secondary characters, from Cynthia, Kook, and Tank to Lisa the Death Barbie. I liked that Alix was really a very typical girl, not a Chosen One or super-special--though Moses's fascination with her from the beginning leaned a bit in that direction, and their fascination with each other was really quite Instalovey.
I can't tell you the end, because I'm not quite there yet. I will say that this book has definitely encouraged me to read more Bacigalupi (and I'm starting to love typing his name and saying it out loud: Bacigalupi, Bacigalupi), and that it's cemented that he can build character and construct a story. This just wasn't the particular story for me.