Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, was published in 2010 by Little, Brown and Company.
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 breached 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.
Paolo Bacigalupi shows off his worldbuilding skills in Ship Breaker, showcasing a rich, detailed world that is sketched out simply with little explanation yet still feels expansive. Rather than describe exactly how his world got the way it is (probably with lots of moralizing and/or political aspects shoved into the reader’s face), Bacigapuli merely states things as they are and leaves the reader to figure out the rest. This way, he still gets his point across but subtly, in a way that’s far more effective than blatantly stating it.
Having read a Bacigalupi book before, I was expecting this book to be good—usually authors who write adult SF/fantasy write well when they transition to young adult. And it was—the plot was tight and tense in all the right moments, the world, as I mentioned, was detailed and imaginative, and the characters were interesting. Some of the aspects were a little hard to buy, but I suppose that’s expected in this genre. I liked that Bacigalupi leaves things open-ended, a little bit, because another common theme in dystopian fiction is for the author to detail exactly how things get better at the end. Bacigalupi doesn’t do that. He’s definitely the more subtle type of author, which I appreciate.
Really, the only thing missing from this book for me is the “wow factor.” It was a good book, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It didn’t grab me and never let me go, making me want to read it over and over again (as with Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series). I thought it was a good young adult dystopian novel with a better-than-average setting that was well executed. I liked Nailer, I liked Lucky Girl, I liked Tool, I liked Pima, and I thought the conflict and character development of Nailer were great. I don’t have the desire to read Ship Breaker again, but that’s the only majorly negative thing I can say about it.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
“You’re lucky,” Pima’s mother said. “You should be dead.”
Nailer was almost too tired to respond, but he mustered a grin for the occasion. “But I’m not. I’m alive.”
Pima’s mother picked up a blade of rusted metal and held it in front of his face. “If this was even another inch into you, you would have washed into shore as body scavenge.” Sadna regarded him seriously. “You’re lucky. The Fates were holding you close today. Should have been another Jackson Boy.” She offered him the rusty shiv. “Keep that for a talisman. It wanted you. It was going for your lung.”