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Ship Breaker Paperback – October 3, 2011
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From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up—A fast-paced postapocalyptic adventure set on the American Gulf Coast. Nailer works light crew; his dirty, dangerous job is to crawl deep into the wrecks of the ancient oil tankers that line the beach, scavenging copper wire and turning it over to his crew boss. After a brutal hurricane passes over, Nailer and his friend Pima stumble upon the wreck of a luxurious clipper ship. It's filled with valuable goods—a "Lucky Strike" that could make them rich, if only they can find a safe way to cash it in. Amid the wreckage, a girl barely clings to life. If they help her, she tells them, she can show them a world of privilege that they have never known. But can they trust her? And if so, can they keep the girl safe from Nailer's drug-addicted father? Exciting and sometimes violent, this book will appeal to older fans of Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" series (S & S) and similar action-oriented science fiction.—Hayden Bass, Seattle Public Library, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
*Starred Review* This YA debut by Bacigalupi, a rising star in adult science fiction, presents a dystopian future like so many YA sf novels. What is uncommon, though, is that although Bacigalupi's future earth is brilliantly imagined and its genesis anchored in contemporary issues, it is secondary to the memorable characters. In a world in which society has stratified, fossil fuels have been consumed, and the seas have risen and drowned coastal cities, Nailer, 17, scavenges beached tankers for scrap metals on the Gulf Coast. Every day, he tries to “make quota” and avoid his violent, drug-addicted father. After he discovers a modern clipper ship washed up on the beach, Nailer thinks his fortune is made, but then he discovers a survivor trapped in the wreckage—the “swank” daughter of a shipping-company owner. Should he slit the girl's throat and sell her for parts or take a chance and help her? Clearly respecting his audience, Bacigalupi skillfully integrates his world building into the compelling narrative, threading the backstory into the pulsing action. The characters are layered and complex, and their almost unthinkable actions and choices seem totally credible. Vivid, brutal, and thematically rich, this captivating title is sure to win teen fans for the award-winning Bacigalupi. Grades 8-12. --Lynn Rutan --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
At the start of Ship Breaker, Nailer finds an undiscovered oil reservoir in the ship he is exploring -- a lucky strike that would be sufficient to feed him and possibly provide escape from his abusive father. However, when he almost drowns in the oil, and one of his young crew mates finds him, she decides not to rescue him and leaves him to die so she can take advantage of his find. Even though Nailer manages to escape, this incident, set early in the novel, is a perfect introduction to the competing themes of "loyalty in the face of adversity" vs. "everyone for themselves" that run through Ship Breaker. After all, when Nailer finds a gorgeous clipper ship run aground during a hurricane, he faces the same choice: should he rescue the rich "swank" girl trapped inside, or let her die so the ship's salvage can make him wealthy?
YA novels have changed just a tad, haven't they? Yep, although you maybe wouldn't guess so from the paragraphs above, Ship Breaker is actually the first Young Adult novel by Paolo Bacigalupi. You can draw a straight line right from the author's excellent SF novel The Windup Girl, which also focused on the disastrous consequences of environmental change, to Ship Breaker. Even though the reading level is YA, and most of the main characters are teenagers, the grimness (not to mention the violence) is definitely straddling the border between adult and YA.
Be that as it may, Ship Breaker is a well-written, gripping SF novel. The story's scope continually broadens, from Nailer's initial find, to the arrival of the clipper, and ultimately to everything the ship's owner stands for. Likewise, the dystopian future gradually becomes clearer as Nailer becomes more aware of, and eventually ventures into, the world outside his beach shantytown. As mentioned before, the theme of loyalty is approached from different directions. Just to name a few: Nailer's relationship with his abusive and addicted father; the connections with and between his crew's members; and maybe most interestingly, the concept of "halfmen," genetically engineered to be loyal to their owners.
While I enjoyed Ship Breaker, and would recommend it to mature YA readers, I can't help but wonder if this story wouldn't have worked better as a regular, non-YA novel. Some of the darker concepts, situated on the periphery of Nailer's story, are only broadly hinted at rather than described outright, which left me feeling frustrated and wanting to read more. If you told me there was a 600-page adult version of this 340-page YA novel, in which Paolo Bacigalupi really embraced the story's darkness and delved more deeply into the world's history and set-up, I'd be first in line to read it.
Still, armchair-quarterbacking aside, Ship Breaker is a good novel with a likable protagonist, a gripping story, and a vision of the future that's sadly becoming more probable by the day. If the grim realism of the environmentally ruined future described in The Windup Girl didn't bother you, and you're in the mood for something in the same vein but at a slightly easier reading level, definitely check out Ship Breaker.
This book is mature in its topics, even if it is marketed as a young adult book. It brings up some very difficult topics, that it would be valuable for parent and child to discuss together. I personally found it very moving - and disturbing at times. The images it created in my brain would not leave my head for days. I do not hesitate to recommend it, but as a parent, I know I would want to read it too, for discussion, to help my child deal with some of the things he will be reading about.
I loved the book so much in fact that I immediately went out and bought the author's book for adults - Wind-up Girl. Amazingly, it's less dark and frightening, although much more adult in topics and complexity. I actually think I prefer Ship Breaker! I am looking forward to the next book in this world.