Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 1st, 2010

Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Wow!  What a fabulous literary creation!  I have had this book on my nightstand for over a year and I just kept passing it over something else.  There was always something I had been looking forward to, and if I'm being honest, the cover just didn't do much for me.  Add to that the fact that it was a multiple award winner, and I just wasn't really wanting to read it (it is pretty rare that I like books that have won lots of awards and usually the fact that it has is an instant turn-off).  Well, you know what they say about judging a book by its cover...  This book was AWESOME!  For the first time in a very long time, I agree with the award judges.  This book deserves every award it received and then some.

The story was engaging right from the beginning.  At first I was unsure where it was going, but it was written so well that I didn't really care.  Once the story began to come together (and it did this quickly) it was impossible to put down.  There was feeling, tough choices, romantic undertones, and heart-pounding action; it was rough and gritty and perfectly paced.  The characters, though not always (or even mostly) likable, were tangible; I felt like I knew them as well as I do my own friends and family.  There were characters that I hated and there were ones that I liked; there were also characters that I wanted to like if only they would make the right decisions...  I loved that there was the possibility of a romance without it having to be the focus of the story.  This story focused on human emotion at its base, and it was beautiful.

If you are looking for a book that is smart and different; one with action, heartache, and intrigue; one that has a strong, yet non-preachy social commentary; one with strong male AND female characters; one that will stay with you long after you read it, look no further.  You have found it.  If, like me, you have been passing this over for far too long,  STOP!  Read this book now.  You will be glad that you did.  I anxiously await The Drowned Cities, which is expected to release in May of 2012.

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Grade Level Recommendation: As is the case with many books that take place in poor communities, this book has a fair amount of drug-abuse/alcoholism.  This is essential to the story and is not glorified. The protagonist's father is very abusive and this book is quite violent (along the same lines as The Hunger Games- not gratuitous violence, but very violent nonetheless). The morality of several of the young characters is questionable at best, but essential to setting the stage.  There is no sex, minimal language.  I would say this book is appropriate for readers ages 10+ (5th grade and up).  However, the corporate and climate related social commentary may be lost on readers at the younger end of the spectrum (10-14 years).  I would use The Hunger Games as your guide.  At whatever age you place that trilogy, is where you should place this.


  1. Karis,
    I love your blog. I have nominated you for a Liebster Award. Check it out here - http://lostinayabook.blogspot.com/2011/08/liebster-blog-award.html

    Emma :)

  2. Great review! I am happy you enjoyed this book so much. I loved the world building, but the story fell a bit flat for me. The book definitely stands out and I would recommend it to everyone who is looking for something different.

  3. I have this book on my bookshelf too, and have passed over it many times. I think I'm gonna have to get to it eventually...hopefully soon


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