Today I have the pleasure of reviewing an oldie but a goodie, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I saw this baby sitting on the bargain book pile the last time I took a gander through the book store, and simply couldn’t resist the cover. Was it ever worth it! Action packed and beautifully written I completely understand how this sucker won a Printz Award and landed a spot as a National Book Award finalist.
Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Genre: YA Fiction, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Themes: Dystopian Futures, Adventure, Family, Friendship, Loyalty, Survival, Classed Societies
Features: Excerpt from The Drowned Cities
My Rating: 5/ 5
In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life…
I absolutely adored every second of this book – from the futuristic post-climate change setting to the characters, and from the writing to how events were sequenced – everything just seemed to fit and flow.
The opening chapters do a fantastic job of the setting the scene for the story to really kick off. They set the tone for how little the ship breakers have, and how highly loyalty and friendship are valued in a world where every day is a struggle to make it to the next. I loved the idea of the Gulf coast returning to nature, and that the mega tankers of today are now nothing more than obsolete sources of scrap metal. It was interesting to the disparity between those who owned the clippers and the companies, and the masses who lived in squats and carried out the grunt work of for the manufacturing world. I hope desperately, that this book opens up conversations with it’s YA readers that this is a thing of the future, but reality for so many working right now in industries like textile and electronics manufacturing, electronics recycling, and the roughly 65 million bonded labourers working the world today.
I adored the contrast not only between Nailer and Pima, with their vastly different family situations and ability to trust, but also tension created between Nailer and Nita and their disparate socioeconomic statuses. It was interesting to see why Nailer attached to people the way the he did, why he craved security and family, and why he was willing to go out on a limb to save Nita when he knew it would bring him immeasurable trouble. I appreciated too, how while Nita never fully lost the habits and airs ingrained through her upbringing, that she was quick to adapt to her situation. It was much easier to palette some of her more pretentious moments knowing that the words were said innocently, especially since she was so quick to get her hands dirty and get to work.
The cast of supporting characters was incredible as well, with Richard proving predictably unpredictable, Tool’s surprising loyalty despite his apparent lack thereof, Pima’s tenacity and courage knowing her odds of making onto a heavy crew were slim, and even Sloth’s deplorable gamble. I was left constantly guessing as to who would be loyal and who would be quick to betray with the temptation of money, and was frequently surprised when characters acted against my expectations.
The messaging throughout this book is sometimes subtle and at other times glaringly obvious but it is always spot on. It matters in this world how you treat people, it not enough just to be smart or lucky – you need to be both, and family can be something far beyond blood. The commentary on industry, urbanization, and climate change is just as poignant and could easily prove to be the starting point for some excellent class and book club discussions.
Finally, the writing is exceptional with it rich imagery and rapid pace. I did find that there were a few words used a touch on the repetitive side, but on the whole the language and vocabulary is not only effective but easily approachable. Given that this book is written with a teen audience in mind, I appreciated the less challenging lexile as it was paired with some heady concepts. I really saw this as a high interest book that could easily be recommended to struggling and advanced readers alike.
Would I recommend this book? Well, I supposed I answered that one in the line above… but the answer is a resounding yes! This is the kind of book that can easily be enjoyed by teens and adults alike, and I definitely think that it’s the kind of book that should be included in school library collections. Fast paced and utter engaging, Bacigalupi will keep you enraptured until the end. I can’t wait to dive into The Drowned Cities and Tool of War, as I am certain they will be just as amazing as Ship Breaker.