Monday, December 5, 2011

Yay for YA: Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Isn't it nice when you read a book that has won awards, and you find it really did deserve those awards?  Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi won the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award, which is one of the American Library Association's highest awards for young adult literature, as well as several other distinctions.  And it's well-earned.
Checkouts: Not owned by the school library yet
Typical reader: Teen boys
Book source: Personallly bought at the Scholastic Book Fair

Synopsis: Nailer, a teenage boy, lives along America's Gulf Coast, earning a living in a light crew, scavenging old tankers and other boats for copper wiring and other valuables.  He nearly dies after falling from a collapsing duct into a hidden oil pocket in a ship, but his run of luck begins and he manages to free himself.  The next day, a monstrous hurricane blows through the area.  Afterward, he and a crew mate find a beached clipper ship off a nearby island.  There's a lone survivor, and despite losing the privilege of scavenging the boat, he decides to rescue her.  But at what cost?

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be: Intense!  This is a book that just won't quit amazing the reader.  The action is nonstop, the dystopian future is believable and expertly designed, and the characters are awesome.  I want to gush about this novel, but am restraining myself for the sake of a coherent review.

Life is tough in the future.  Climate change has apparently occurred, with the polar ice caps gone, shorelines changed around the world, and "city breaker" F6 hurricanes bombarding the Gulf Coast so much that after Orleans 3, the people gave up on trying to have decent cities in the lowlands of Louisiana.  But there are plenty of old abandoned tankers and other metal ships in the vicinity, ready for crews to scavenge everything useful from them.  Oil is a scarce, precious resource, a relic occasionally found on the old gas-guzzling ships of the past.  The book is never preachy, though.  The characters are struggling to survive too much for that.

The characters are perfectly flawed.  Everyone has a hard life in Nailer's world, from the low-life trash that break their oaths to their crew, to the "swank," the members of the upper class with their internal politics and backstabbing.  There are no flat characters here, no black-and-white heroes and villains, no throw-away character filling a stereotype.  Another thing I liked about the characters was that they could grow and learn.  This was particularly true of the protagonist, Nailer, and the swank he saves from the clipper, Nita.  Nita never came across a plot device, despite being a driving force behind much of the story, and her experiences outside her "white-bread world" really added to her character.

There is a companion book, The Drowned Cities, due out next spring.  It features a secondary character that was quite interesting in my opinion: Tool, a genetically engineered half-man, similar to a werewolf minus the shapeshifting, who has no master.  I'll be looking forward to it.


  1. That does sound like a pretty original concept. It's good to know there's so much young adult fiction out there with such originality.

  2. Hmmm...this sounds stunning although I'm not sure if it's for me. It has that depressing future quality that I usually don't like. But it sounds like such an excellent novel that I should read it.