Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker #1) by Paolo Bacigalupi
Publication Date: 1 May 2010 by Brilliance Audio
ISBN 10/13: 1441883495 | 9781441883490
Hardcover Date: 1 May 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN 10/13: 0316056219 | 9780316056212
Keywords: Fantasy, dystopian, ships, pirates, genetic engineering, family
Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
I was a little apprehensive about picking this one up. While I thought Bacigalupi's last book, The Windup Girl, was interesting, it wasn't a favorite. But a long road trip prompted me to pick up Ship Breaker in audio book at the library. Luckily, my fears were unfounded, and I am really glad I took a chance on it.
The book takes place in a grim future where where global warming has caused a major shift in the ecological landscape. Rising water levels and "city killer" storms have left large metropolitan areas covered in water and refuse. Nailer, a young teenage boy, works a dangerous job on the light crew, stripping old tanker ships that have washed ashore for copper wire and other salvageable parts. Living a hand to mouth existence, with an abusive father at home, Nailer knows that any day might be his last. A lucky encounter with a downed clipper ship brings Nailer and his friend Pima to Nita, a "swank" rich girl and the only survivor of the ship. Nailer decides to risk it all to save Nita with the hope that she'll help him leave the ship yards for good.
Ship Breaker is a tense roller coaster ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Well plotted and well paced, there's never a dull moment. With a male protagonist and an emphasis on peril and adventure, I can see this book appealing to boys. There's a bit of romance thrown in, though it's minor compared to everything else that happens in the book.
Bacigalupi does a great job of creating a unique and believable dystopian future, one both familiar but also very different than our own. He tackles some heavy themes, including environmental responsibility, class disparity, and notions of family and loyalty. Though a bit heavy handed at times, Bacigalupi manages not to sound too preachy. Though their world is often cruel and heartless, there still exists kindness, friendship and love, as demonstrated by Nailer and others in the story.
While the world is vast and rich, what impressed me the most about the book were the characters in it. They are diverse in breeding and background and are a complex lot, damaged and imperfect. No character is all good or all bad. Shades of grey dominate. Nailer himself is unlikable at times, lashing out at Nita when he's angry or afraid. But he's also kind and fiercely loyal, sticking with Nita when the smart thing to do is walk away. One of my favorite characters is the half-man Tool. Created from the DNA of humans, hyenas and tigers, he is a vicious killer but ends up being an unexpected ally. I really hope we see more of him in the next book.
Ship Breaker is a book with something for everyone--a dystopian adventure with interesting characters, knife fights, train chases, pirate battles and a little bit of kissing thrown in. I recommend the audio book if you can get it. Joshua Swanson has a great, expressive voice and his pacing is fantastic. He does do separate voices for the characters, which I am not usually a fan of, but didn't mind in this case.
Thanks, Mr. Bacigalupi for keeping me entertained for 700 miles!