Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ship Breaker

Every time Ship Breaker popped up on my radar last year I saw words like "dystopian" and "futuristic" surrounding it.  Dystopian is not a genre I particularly enjoy so I decided to pass on reading it.  Then it won The Printz Award and I decided to go ahead and let this be my one dystopian read for 2011.  Given the award I expected to read a well crafted novel that I wouldn't enjoy very much.  I was not disappointed but I was surprised.  Ship Breaker is a finely crafted novel and I enjoyed reading it very much.
Summary (from book jacket):
In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota-and hopefully live to see another day.  But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life:  Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life...

The novel is dystopian in that it is set in a futuristic United States where man is suffering the effects of climate change:  category 6 "City Killer" hurricanes, high ocean levels, a shortage of energy and a massive gulf between the haves and the have-nots.  I knew the story involved an earth adversely affected by climate change and was little surprised that it has won so many awards as this is a trendy topic at the moment.  I was impressed with the way Paolo Bacigalupi treated the subject.  The book was not a lecture to change our wayward practices, it simply presents the world as the author envisioned it for his story and leaves the rest for the reader to sort out.

The world created for this novel is a believable one because, while it is set in the future, the story could be happening in  multiple places all over the world as I type this.  It is essentially the story of an impoverished youth being used as practical slave labor by an industry that cares little for his safety.  His understanding of the greater world is limited but he knows he wants out of his constricted existence.  What Nailer does with the opportunities given him to get out made a fascinating, edge of your seat read.

The plot is action packed.  This is one of those books where something is always happening.  It is intense.  Often plots like this don't lend well to in depth character development.  Not so in this case.   I found Nailer to be a fully realized in depth character.  His conflicted feelings, confusion, feelings of inferiority, doubts, and will of iron are presented thoroughlyl and shown through the action.  The secondary characters were not as well developed but they were fascinating in their own right, particularly Tool (a character who gives food for thought on genetic research and where it might go).  I would have liked to see the character of Nita developed a bit more but there is apparently going to be a sequel, so there is time for that.

This book also has one of the creepiest villains I've come across in a long long time.  His name is Richard Lopez and there were times I was bouncing on my couch because I could feel Nailer's fear of him so well.

I appreciated the end.  There is closure and no cliff-hanger.  I didn't even know there was going to be another book until after I read it.  I honestly don't know if I want to read it though.  I loved this book as it is concluded and like all the potential paths Nailer's story can take from that point.  I don't know if I want the options in my mind narrowed down.  I might not be able to resist it though.

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