Thursday, April 07, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.

This book won the ALA Printz award, and it was also a finalist for the National Book Award. I can see why. I loved it.

I love books that can go there with the darkness of reality and how crappy life can be, and yet not come across as heavy-handed and depressing. Ship Breaker is such a book. I was amazed at how ruthless Nailer’s reality is, the horrible things he’s faced with, and yet I never felt that the subject matter was too harsh or tedious. Bacigalupi does a fantastic job maintaining that balance.

The story is not exactly dystopia since the world hasn’t been destroyed and/or civilization hasn’t fallen apart. The worst thing that’s happened is the ice caps have melted, and there is far less land than there used to be. Also, green energy is used to power ships and cars instead of oil, but it’s expensive so only the rich have it. The story does have dystopic elements, and I think that’s mostly because it takes place in an area of extreme poverty. Survival is the name of the game here, as is the case in many dystopia stories. In Nailer’s world, there is also a huge divide between the rich and the poor, which lends to the overall feel of the book.

There are also strong themes of loyalty throughout the story. The whole concept of ‘we’re crew’ means you look out for one another or risk being branded so everyone knows you’re a traitor, and then you’ll never find work again. Nailer stays with his abusive father, and even feels compelled to save his life. The half-men, genetically engineered half-man half dog. Loyalty was written into their genetic code, so they don’t have a choice in the matter.

The characters are amazing, my favorite being Tool. He is the epitome of individual thought, and I thought Bacigalupi drew him well. Nailer is the ultimate scrapper, doing whatever needs to be done and using whatever he has handy, in order to survive. And Nita is the perfect example of self-respect. She’s not afraid to act, but only if she can live with herself afterward.

This is now one of my all-time favorite books. Highly recommended.


Kristi said...

Okay, okay, I HAVE to add this to my goodreads list, like NOW! I keep hearing amazing things about it and while it's different from my normal read, it sounds amazing.

Thanks for the great review! ;P


Tabitha said...

Yes!! It's an amazing book. I bought a hardback to add to my favorites bookshelf. :)

Jessie Harrell said...

very original premise. I hadn't heard of this one before - thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You give such excellent reviews. This was one of my favorite books last year, and I agree entirely with your take on it.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

thanks! This is the first I've heard of this but sounds awesome!

Jenn Reese said...

Ship Breaker is fabulous!! I've also heard that the second book will feature a lot more of Tool -- who was probably my favorite character, as well!

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your reviews because I know you're honest. This is very high praise. This definitely isn't my typical kind of book, but now you have me thinking I may have to stretch my boundaries.

Tere Kirkland said...

I just loved this books for the setting, the characters, and the story. There was just enough tension, and plenty of action. I loved how seamlessly the world-building is incorporated into the story.

I think the reason that Shipbreaker never seemed too depressingly dark, was because of the attitude of the mc. Nailer knows how important work is, if he wants to survive, so he's pretty positive about the jobs he has to do; he's just glad he's still small enough to fit in the ducts and things to work on light crew. And he's never known anything else, so what would he compare it to?

I'd recommend this book to boys who're looking for something to read after Dashner, or Riorden.

I didn't know there was a sequel coming out, but I will definitely read it!

Michelle Flick said...

I am glad you loved it so much. This one has been on my list to get for awhile and it just moved up on this list! Thanks!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I HAVE to read this book!! :-)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

This book is in my TBR stack. Looking forward to it.

Logan E. Turner said...

This sounds really cool. I will have to check it out. Hopefully I never have to ask a bookstore clerk about it, since just looking at Paolo's last name leaves me confused. :)

Tabitha said...

Jesse - I hadn't heard much about it, either. The first time I saw it was in one of those 'if you that book, you'll love this...' lists. The premise sounded intriguing, so I checked it out from the library. I loved it. Then it was a finalist for the National Book Awards, and then it won the Printz. And I just realized that I didn't put that info in the review! Shame on me... :)

Tricia - thanks! This book is amazing, isn't it? I could not put it down. :)

Terry - if you like harsh reality, you'll love Ship Breaker. It does a great job of giving the main characters the shaft and still keeping hope alive.

Jenn - there's a second book??? Oooooo, there's a copy out there somewhere with my name on it. :)

Tabitha said...

Kelly - thank you! This book is definitely bleak, so if that isn't your thing then it might be difficult to get through in places. That was partly why I liked it so much, though. Nailer was faced with things that most adults wouldn't have seen, and the story stays in the realm of YA. I totally geeked out over that. :)

Tere - I agree. Nailer accepts his world for what it is, and he's a hard worker. So he takes what he gets and then makes the best of it. It makes it easy to trust him--we know he's going to do his very best to make things better, so we're willing to go on a horrifying journey with him. Such amazing character building going on in this story. I am in awe. :)

Mflick1 - glad to hear it! I hope you'll share your thoughts when you're done. :)

Shannon - yes you do! :)

Beverly - I hope you like it as much as I did!

Logan - too funny. :) I can't pronounce it, either, but you already knew that. I hope you write a review when you're done reading.

S (Book Purring) said...

Wow. I added it to my tbr immediately I have to see this book that has you so excited :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I absolutely LOVED this book. My favorite part was the slang. I think this was the best uses of original slang to match the world in any novel I've read.

Sliding high.
Blood and Rust.

There were others but I read this book last year, and can't remember them all.

Excellent review, thanks Tabitha!

Tabitha said...

Samita - it's amazing. I just hope I did the book justice in my review. :)

Matthew - yes! The slang was fantastic. Very few books do that well, but this one nailed it. The rest of the story is just as amazing. I read this book in December, and it's taken me this long to write the review because I really wanted to do it justice. :)

Regina said...

I really enjoyed this story as well. Great book!