Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi
In America's Gulf Coast region, grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts by crews of young people. 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 by chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached 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 . . . .
Review: A YA dystopia with minimal romance—I liked this book before I started reading. It also gets bonus points for not being a one-teenager-must-save-the-world dystopia. Nailer just wants to stay alive.
Nailer lives in America’s flooded Gulf Coast and has a job stripping old ships of their valuable metals. The work is hard and dangerous, and he doesn’t make enough money to get himself and his drug-addicted father out of poverty. After a hurricane, Nailer finds a clipper ship washed up near the shore of an island. He could strip the ship and sell the metal himself, or he could rescue the ship’s only survivor and maybe get a reward for returning her and the ship to her wealthy family. He has to make a decision quickly, or he could lose the ship, the survivor, and possibly his life to the other ship breakers.
The characters’ culture is so well-developed in this book. They have their own slang, their own religions, their own ethical codes. Their culture is interesting to read about because it’s close enough to ours to be understandable, but it’s still strange and unpredictable. “Ship breaking” is also a job I’ve never seen before in fiction, so it’s unique.
Like all good dystopias, this one tackles a lot of society’s issues. It’s about racism, classism, workers’ rights, and environmental damage. I think the book does a very good job of showing these issues without being preachy about them. The characters work in inhumane conditions and live in shacks on the beach. They’d do anything to get a better life for themselves, including murder. Some of them will even murder their own family members. None of the characters can be trusted because they’ll kill each other for the opportunity to make money. I love not knowing who to trust in a dystopia.
I’ve read a lot of dystopias, and there are a few things about this one that bother me. First, the characters are kind of flat. I didn’t learn enough about them to connect with them or really care about them. The book also took a while to grab my attention, and it felt slow in the middle. Luckily, the ending is great. It’s action-packed and deadly, which is exactly what I wanted.
I haven’t decided if I want to read the companion novel, but this one was pretty enjoyable.