Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Recommended by Doris Adam-Hillert
Teen Services Librarian, Fallbrook Branch
Like Hunger Games by Susan Collins, this is a great teen novel that also appeals to adults. Set in America’s Gulf Coast region, in an apocalyptic future – not too far from now, Nailer a 14 or 15 year old, skinny boy survives day to day by stripping grounded oil tankers for light metals like copper and aluminum parts. It’s a raw and tough life in utter poverty where loyalty to crew weighs heavier than family. In Nailer’s case, family consists of an alcohol and drug addicted father: a cruel and violent man who the boy is in constant fear of. One day, Nailer and his trusted crew friend Pima discover a stranded clipper full of things the “swanks” (the rich and powerful people) have. The salvage from the clipper could be their “lucky strike,” the once-in-a-lifetime chance that could lift them out of their quandary. However, on the ship they also find a pretty, rich “swank-girl,” and she is barely alive. Weeks ago, Nailer would probably not have hesitated to kill the girl (like his father surely would have done) cutting off her fingers and take the golden rings. Today though, he remembers his own recent near-death experience, when he almost drowned in an oil pocket in one of the old tanker ships. He remembers vividly how he prayed for someone to help him out. And now, Nita’s pleading eyes are locked on his.
This dystopian tale touches on many current, tangible issues: global warming, ecological and economic collapse, stratified society, loss of humanity, creation of biogenetically designed “half-men,” and more. Nothing seems too far-fetched, and the whole scenario feels uncomfortably close to reality. As a coming-of-age novel, the story deals with dysfunctional families, first love, friendship and loyalty, survival in grim circumstances while keeping up integrity and morals. Nailer even learns to read, which gives him an edge on crafting his own future. Bacigalupi’s imagination of future cultures is dark and thoroughly convincing – his characters are entirely believable and his style is compelling. All together, the author delivers an adventure thriller that is a fast-paced, breath-taking page turner. Even though the tone is bleak, there is a small but powerful silver lining of hope on the horizon. Once you finish Ship Breaker, you will want to read more of Bacigalupi’s work. First, try the sequel to Ship Breaker, Drowned Cities, where you will learn what happened to Tool, the impossible half-man who fought so fiercely for Nita.