Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. Little, Brown, 2010. 352p. Grades 6 and up. Science Fiction. (2011 Printz Award).
In the wake of catastrophic climate change and civil warfare, the American Gulf Coast is a desolate stretch of beachfront littered with the looming hulls of oil tankers and home to the crews who scavenge the tankers for copper wiring and hidden reserves of oil. Nailer and his fellow light crew members work long hours at this “shipbreaking,” all the while dreaming of hitting a Lucky Strike—a trove of goods that could make them all rich. After yet another city-killer hurricane, Nailer comes across a stranded clipper ship and its lone survivor, the daughter of a rich shipping company magnate named Nita. On the run from Nita’s enemies and Nailer’s drug-addicted mercenary father, the two create their own crew and work together to save Nita’s life and find their own Lucky Strike.
Thoughts- I read this book very, very late in the semester and thought that maybe I was a little burnt-out on books, especially one with bleak premises and grim visions of the future. Ship Breaker proved me wrong. It was just so, so GOOD, and I had to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen to Nailer, Nita, Pima, and the rest of the fascinating characters Bacigalupi created to inhabit his dystopia. For me, it was almost flawless—the characters are rounded and seem to leap off the page, the world-building is exquisite in its detail, the creation of lingo for the varying crews is impeccably interwoven and not at all distracting, and the storyline so contemporary and relevant—I was amazed. It’s almost easier to talk about my one criticism (the ending) than to discuss the myriad of things done well in Ship Breaker.
As for that ending, I thought it was all just a little too pat and maybe a touch trite. Nailer saves Nita and is reunited with Pima, the good captain manages to survive his life-threatening wound, and if all is not completely well with the world, it is temporarily well with Nailer’s life. I know that Ship Breaker’s companion novel, The Drowned Cities, doesn’t end on quite as bright a note, and that would probably be alright with me. Life is hard in Bacigalupi’s new world and things end just a little too perfectly for Nailer. Despite this, I think this lone genre fiction Printz winner exemplifies everything that is great about science fiction and the dystopian sub-genre in particular. Ship Breaker has action, adventure, travel, pirates, and even a hint of romance, and I think it will entertain and move readers of all ages.