REVIEW: Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1st edition (May 1, 2010)
Hardcover, 336 pages.
Cover price: $17.99
Age: 12 and up

Tags: dystopia, steam punk, futuristic, post (environmental) apocalypse, young adult, science fiction, adventure

Meet Nailer, a wiry teenager who works the light crew. It’s his job to crawl through the dangerous ducts and narrow passages of abandoned tanker ships to scavenge copper wire that his crew can then strip and sell. He’s lucky, he has a job and a crew but as soon as he gets too big for the ducts, he’ll get stripped of his crew tats and left to fend for himself on the beaches. 

Those who are too small to make heavy crew end up like his father, mean and addicted to drugs or worse, at the mercy of the Life Cult, harvesters of body parts. He knows he’ll need a lucky strike if he wants to make it out, and he may just get his chance when he and Pima (crew boss girl) find a wrecked boat full of rich salvage. Along with the boat, however, is one survivor – a girl. Should Nailer be smart and “pig stick” the girl to recoup the salvage, or let her live in hopes that she and her rich family will take him out of his hell-hole and away from his abusive father.

Bacigalupi does an amazing job developing this dystopian world in which the polar ice caps have long since melted away, swamping the coastal regions leaving entire cities under water. Oil is still a commodity, but hard to come by, even though it pollutes the water. His characters are equally well developed and tragic, and we find ourselves struggling right along with them as the story line twists and turns. 

This is a dark young adult novel that challenges the definition of family and questions moral issues surrounding survival. What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to survive or make a better life for yourself?

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