Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: YA Dystopian
# of pages
: 326 (hb)
Publisher: Little Brown
Recommended for: 8th & Beyond

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 This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss.

I tell you what, I am getting TERRIBLE at writing reviews in a timely manner. I read this book way back in the beginning of August and I'm just now getting around to writing my review... The thing is, I actually remember a lot about this book, so that really speaks volumes to its memorability.
I'd almost given up on dystopians when I picked up Ship Breaker. Dystopian worlds were either interesting-but-improbable (Wither), too-improbable-to-be-interesting (Delirium), or clean-but-just-not-interesting (Matched). And then along c
ame Ship Breaker.
BAM! There's a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world that seems like it could actually happen.
BAM! It's a world that's scary, urgent, and one to be taken very seriously.
BAM! A character who's likable but definitely an underdog
BAM! Action and Suspense!
Ship Breaker begins with a look in the day in the life of a ship-breaker (or scrapper) named Nailer, who lives somewhere along the Gulf Coast in a run-down community of workers who scavenge and salvage along the beach. He has dreams and high aspirations, but the bleak nature of his existence makes those dreams seem impossible to reach. That is, until he happens upon a wrecked clipper ship and finds a wealthy girl, the ship's lone survivor. Suddenly Nailer is faced with several choices about what's right, what's wrong, and how t
he rest of his life is going to play out.
What sets Ship Breaker apart from the other dystopians out there is not only its creativity, but also its substance. There was something about this book that was just...important. I actually cared about what was going to happen next, and I wanted to keep reading. Sadly, I don't always feel that way about the books I read. Bacigalupi also raises interesting questions about our world but doesn't ever get obnoxious with trying to push some agenda. I'd rather have authors probe, rather than push.
Nailer was a good protagonist, but good lawwwwd what a nam
e! The only thing about Ship Breaker that I didn't really like was the character's name because it didn't really sound like a name at all. But anyway. That, and I wasn't particularly fond of the character Pima. She's what I like to call 'filler characters.' When she showed up at the end of the novel, I was like, 'ahhh nuts!'
Other than those two itty-bitty things, the only setback with Ship Breaker was its tone.
Folks, this is a very bleak book. A very bleak, dreary book. I mean, it's practically an emo book. So much doom and gloom and the badness of human nature and negative, negative, negative!
Now yes, dystopians are kind of like this general, but what separated Ship Breaker from - say - The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking series) - was basically a lack of hope. Nailer's world...really, the world in general as it's presented here...is so ugly and so base and just so dark, there's very little light or goodness to counter that.
As much as Nailer seemed like a good character (and he was), I got the feeling that he was almost always motivated by external factors, as oppose to an innate sense of what's right. That began to change towards the end of the novel, but it was enough to make me wonder how many of his choices were for personal gain only. In contrast, I thought The Knife of Never Letting Go had just enough hope and innate goodness in the characters to compensate for the extreme intensity that dominated the novel (and the rest of the series). Same with Unwind or Divergent.
I definitely enjoyed Ship Breaker, and I don't want to sound like I didn't, but it was kind of hard to get through at times, just because it was soooo BLEAK. That is ultimately why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5. That, and Pima came back at the end of the story. Boo.
But like I said, as far as dystopians go, Ship Breaker is DEFINITELY one of the better ones.
I can't wait for the sequel, The Drowned Cities

Discretion: there is a high amount of violence, incl. domestic abuse, and moderate-level language.
Vague references to prostitution and drugs

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