Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ship Breaker

Title:               Ship Breaker
Category:       Science Fiction, Dystopian
Grade:            12-17
Author:          Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher:       Little, Brown & Company
Place:              New York
Date:               2010
Pages:             323

An exciting and very readable addition to the dystopian and steampunk science fiction genres, Ship Breaker tells the story of young Nailer, a teen who is still small enough to scavenge the pipes of the many wrecked tankers that litter the coast of his primitive world.  Living with his drug-riddled, abusive father, Nailer dreams of being the next “Lucky Strike,” a scavenger who found and was able to profit from the discovery of a secret, unclaimed cache of oil.  When a hurricane wrecks a luxury ship near Nailer’s home, he and his crew leader, Pima, believe their wish has come true until they discover the wealthy daughter of a powerful shipping company mogul barely alive onboard.  Though Nailer chooses mercy and rescues her, knowing it could cost him his chance to grow rich and escape, Nailer’s father is not so generous.  Nailer, Pima and Sadna escape, and a full-scale chase across the country, over land and sea, ensues.  Eventually Nailer must make a choice between his own life and that of his father, in this brutal, environmentally-oriented story. 

Ship Breaker combines the best of the dystopian genre with complex and likeable characters, common struggles and themes that contemporary teens can relate to, and a fast-paced, readable narrative sure to make it a hit. In spite of the fact that Ship Breaker creates an entirely new post-Apocalypse dystopia, Bacigalupi’s characters, like Westerfeld’s in Uglies, struggle with contemporary and relevant wishes and worries that will arouse sympathy and understanding from modern teens.  Nailer is forced to makes several extremely difficult life-and-death decisions, not just for his own life, but for those of his friends and family.  Teens will be able to relate to Nailer’s wish to find a way out of his circumstances, and his struggle over being free of his father, and remaining loyal to him because of the bond of family.  They will also have strong opinions about Nailer’s choice to sacrifice his own happiness, riches and even freedom in order to save another’s life, not once but several times.  In spite of the foreignness of Nailer’s environment, the book is highly readable, its characters and situations easy to like and relate to, and its bittersweet conclusion leaves us satisfied without being overly sappy or moralistic. Some books just make us think.  While Ship Breaker for me was not on par with After or Unwind, it is both a highly engaging read and a promising classroom tool for discussion.  Teens are often highly engaged, opinionated, and vociferous when it comes to questions of ethics and morality, and Nailer’s choices leave a lot of room for debate and discussion.  Though dystopian stories are often a deterrent to many teens, who prefer more familiar settings, Nailer deals with a whole spectrum of issues they can relate to, from substance abuse to domestic neglect and violence, romance, and even working that first dead-end job.  Ship Breaker is action-packed with a colorful array of characters and landscapes that keep it from being preachy, and includes a strong undercurrent of environmentalism that will strike a chord with today’s concerned teens.


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