Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Nailer’s world is bleak. He lives on the Gulf Coast, working on a light crew that salvages metal from wrecked ships. It’s difficult, demanding work, pays barely enough for Nailer to survive, but provides the best life he can hope for. Until, in the aftermath of a deadly storm, Nailer and his crew boss, Pima, find a freshly wrecked clipper ship.
The clipper ship holds more wealth than Nailer and Pima have ever seen before: silverware, china, gold rings still stuck on the swollen fingers of a girl. The rings won’t come off, and, believing the girl dead, Nailer is about to cut her fingers off when the girl blinks. She is still alive, and as she gains strength, she tells them that people will be searching for her.
The girl leaned forward, her face lit by the fire, her features suddenly cold. “If you hurt me, my father will come here and wipe you and yours off the face of the earth and feed your guts to the dogs.” She sat back. “It’s your choice: Get rich helping me, or die poor.” (p. 113)
But can Nailer trust Lucky Girl, as the girl with the gold rings was quickly named? And is she worth the risk? The clipper wreckage is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, while forgoing the wreckage and helping Lucky Girl will not only mean facing the dangers of Lucky Girl’s secrets, but the wrath of Nailer’s alcohol- and drug-addicted father, as well.
Nailer is the center of Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut YA novel. Bacigalupi, who recently won a Nebula Award for The Windup Girl, immediately immerses readers in the harshness of Nailer’s life, yet Nailer is not without hope and empathy. Nailer’s life takes a dangerous turn after the discovery of Lucky Girl, when what had already been a fast-paced, compelling story became even more thrilling. There are fights and chases and escapes, and through it all, Bacigalupi never loses sight of Nailer. He makes the reader care for Nailer, and this is partly what makes Ship Breaker so suspenseful and exciting.
The setting is also vividly and realistically depicted. Readers are given glimpses and hints of the larger world—in which oil is hard to come by, climate change has drowned cities, and genetically engineered half-men are belongings of the wealthy—but only when these details are relevant to the story. Despite this narrow focus, Ship Breaker’s dystopian post-apocalyptic setting is fully realized, the worldbuilding ingenious and frighteningly plausible. Altogether, Ship Breaker is a magnificent addition to dystopian literature and a fantastically readable book.
Book source: public library.
Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.
* If you’re intrigued by Ship Breaker, do read Gwenda’s SBBT interview with Bacigalupi. It’s extremely interesting (doesn’t an answer like, “I think the other thing that was going on was that I’d been getting poked at by a lot of people in science fiction because I write such grim stories. The typical comment was along the lines of: ‘After I read a Bacigalupi story, I want to slit my wrists,’ which I’m actually quite proud of–but I also wanted to play with emotional notes other than despair and fear,” make you want to read the rest of the interview?) and will NOT spoil your reading of Ship Breaker.