- Caroline Parr
What, another dystopian YA novel? Yes, but Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is so fresh and involving that even the most jaded reader is sure to enjoy it.
Teenaged Nailer is a ship breaker, one of the poorest of the poor who eke out a living dismantling rusting oil tankers along the Gulf. He’s still small enough to crawl through the ducts in search of copper wire, which he retrieves and turns over to his crew boss. His drug-addicted father is an unpredictable force, and Nailer considers his friend Pima and her mother the closest thing he has to a real family.
After a hurricane sweeps over the coast, Nailer and Pima discover the wreck of a high-tech clipper ship hidden in an inlet. As they scavenge for food, money and anything else that can turn their luck, they discover the body of a beautiful and clearly rich young woman. Just as Nailer contemplates cutting off her finger to steal her rings, her eyes open.
The girl, nicknamed Lucky Girl by Nailer and Pima, assures them that her wealthy family is searching for her and will arrive soon. But as the days go by, and their hiding place is on the verge of discovery, they start to suspect she’s holding something back from them.
Bacigalupi, an award-winning science-fiction writer who enters the YA market with this book, sets his story in a recognizable but ecologically ravaged Gulf Coast. New Orleans has long since drowned, New Orleans II is under water, and New Orleans III is the only remnant left standing. The gap between rich and poor is immense and the source of a simmering resentment held in check only by the utter exhaustion of the poorest.
Clearly, the author has a message here about the waste of natural resources, but I found it so well integrated into the story that I never felt he was preaching to me. The search for family is a theme that knits together a plot, setting and characters that are naturals for the movies. Nailer and the other vividly realized characters – have I mentioned the genetically manipulated part-dog, part-humans? – stayed with me long after I read the last page.
See the author talk about his book here: