Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review: Ship Breaker, by Paul Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker is one heck of a ride! This is a great story, with interesting characters and a heart-pounding ending.

The story takes place in the maybe-not-so-distant future in the United States. Our main character, Nailer, works in the gulf coast region as a ship breaker. These are people who strip sunken ships of everything of value. Nailer, because he is small, goes into the tight duct-like spaces to harvest copper wiring. He works with a “light crew” of kids, who have a boss that isn’t always pleasant. There’s very little pay; they are always poor, tired, and hungry. It is a daily struggle just for survival.

After a huge storm, Nailer and his crew mate Pima find a beautiful clipper ship wrecked on the beach. These ships are always owned by very rich people. Pima and Nailer have never experienced anything close to the treasures on this ship, and if they play their cards right, they could be set for life. But, the book doesn’t end there, so that’s not what happens.

They find a survivor, Nita, and they rescue her and wait for her father to come find her, so Nailer and Pima can be rewarded. Nita, it turns out, isn’t being totally honest with them, and no father is coming. As a matter of fact what IS coming is NOT going to be pleasant for any of them. Thus begins their flight to Orleans to find people who are sympathetic to Nita.

Bacigalupi’s strength is the many excellent characters. Nailer’s father, Richard is an evil, violent, drug addict, yet Nailer has such a desire for family, that he is torn apart every time they meet. Pima’s mother, Sadna, is the wise mother-figure. There are “half-men,” that are part human, part dog, part tiger, and some other stuff. Tool is one of these half-men, very scary, but in this case, helpful. Every one of these characters contributes significantly to the story and keeps the reader drawn into it. They are resourceful, and brave, and the main characters all grow and mature.

One small omission for me was more of a description of the entire country and its situation. How did it get this way? Is there a government? I wished for at least a small insight into the bigger picture. 

I don’t think teens are going to care about that as much as I do, and this is a great book to recommend to adventure lovers, especially boys. There’s a lot of dirt, and discomfort; a lot of physical activity, as well as pain. I can see reluctant male readers enjoying this story. 

Published by Little, Brown & Co., 2010
This book won the 2011 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
Copy obtained from the library
323 pages

Rating: 4/5

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  1. This being an award winner, I've been meaning to read it. HOWEVER, I haven't been really sure how good it is and/or if it would be something I would enjoy. Thank you for the review and now I *know* it's a must read! :-)

  2. I have this one from the library right now. Glad to hear it's an exciting read, and so dystopian! Definitely sounds like one I will enjoy. Thanks for the review!

  3. I've got this one in my TBR pile. I keep meaning to get to it!

  4. I loved this book and knew it would be a had so much symbolism relevant to today's concerns. Unfortunately I am not finding many kids who are fans of it. But then, come to think of it, they rarely fall all over themselves to read the "winners"...think, Jellicoe Road and White Darkness. Sigh.

  5. I'm always excited to find more books for male reluctant readers. Thanks for the introduction.


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