Ship Breaker is an award-winning YA sci-fi/dystopia novel by Paolo Bacigalupi.
Nailer is a teenage boy working as a ship breaker in America’s Gulf Coast region. His small size is prized as he can go into the smaller, tighter areas that others cannot in order to scavenge valuable metals and other materials out of the old, grounded, rusted oil tankers they find.
Making quota is extremely important – because if you’re fired… well, you’re probably not going to last long. The climate and culture leaves very little wiggle room for a non-useful person. So, Nailer does what he needs to do to survive. Only problem? He won’t stay small for much longer. Natural growth will soon leave him without value. Then what will he do?
But then he finds a new, gorgeous clipper ship beached from a recent storm. At first his mind races with trying to figure out how he could possibly claim this wreckage as his (and coming up empty), but then when he and Pima, one of the only fellow crew members he trusts, board it they find that there is one survivor onboard – a young, beautiful, obviously wealthy girl. Pima and Nailer have never even imagined so much wealth as she wears decorated on her fingers and clothes, let alone the food stored in the clipper.
And she may be their ticket out of this hopeless, futureless life of ship breaking…
At first I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a more male-oriented novel, but no – this well-written, taut sci-fi novel is a bleak glimpse into an unhappy future, scary, and thrilling for either male or female, in my opinion!
Ship Breaker surprised me. I’ll admit, sometimes when a book wins awards and gets heaped with praise – I am a little leery. The reason why is that in the past I have read books that I’m told by all the critics blurbs and award-givers is fantastic, only to find it stale and tedious. Or maybe a little self-important.
But then you also sometimes totally agree. This time, with Ship Breaker, I am in the latter category!
We have a sympathetic, yet edgy, main character that has an abysmal way of life – both at home and at work. In this absorbing, original adventure we see Nailer war with his instincts of protecting himself and his conscience. Almost no one can be trusted, as everyone is just looking at for themselves at any cost – which we are introduced to from the get-go in an adrenaline-thumping first couple of chapters.
Ship Breaker is an extremely well though-out and excellently plotted novel that comes off as a unique coming-of-age story in a frighteningly different world.
One thing that was strange to me, though, was that I felt like the last fifty pages or so were erratic and rushed. However, I was still satisfied and happy with the novel, which in the end I found quite exceptional and readable for any age.
I will be keeping my eyes open for a sequel!
*I received a copy of Ship Breaker from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity did not influence, nor seek to influence, my opinion of this novel.