Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was completely riveted by this book from beginning to end. The book starts off “in medias res” with Nailer in the pitch-dark bowels of an oil tanker and the tension and action only builds from there. I never found myself glancing ahead, waiting for the action to pick up—the tension was always palpable. Bacigalupi does an incredible job building a world that seems vivid, dangerous, and wholly real. Set in the future, there were enough details recognizable from life today (hurricanes, oil tankers, the Gulf Coast region, tension between rich and poor) that this dystopian future felt eerily possible. This would be a great book to teach in conjunction with a science unit on hurricanes or a history unit on New Orleans and the recent oil crisis.
Nailer is a character that I think many young people, particularly boys, will relate to. He is brave, daring, intelligent, and also has a lot of heart. He is easy to root for, and I was very quickly swept up into his life and perspective. The prose is fast-paced, filled with vivid imagery and details, yet also easy to follow.
Caveats: There is a great deal of violence, and also mentions of drugs, underage drinking, and innuendos of sexual violence. It might be most appropriate for a high school audience.
Other books by Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl and Pump Six & Other Stories. (He is known as a “biopunk”/sci-fi writer for both adult and YA audiences.)
Themes/motifs: human destruction of nature; climate change/global warming; wealth versus poverty; corruption of power; compassion and being generous and kind towards others; “family” defined as people who make you feel safe; gumption and courage
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