Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

ship-breakerCindy: There are so many bad YA books by authors of adult fiction who try to cross over, that I rejoice when someone nails it. Paolo Bacigalupi, welcome to the fold! Ship Breaker (Little Brown, 2010) is not only a great cross over for this author, it’s one of the best books of the year so far and should bring some of his ardent science fiction reading adult fans nosing around to see what else is happening in teen literature.

Nailer, a teen living on the Gulf Coast in a post-apocalyptic future, longs to sail on the elegant clipper ships, but as a member of light-crew, he is destined to spend his day crawling through small ducts, stripping copper and other valuable metals from the wrecked oil tankers along the coast. Making quota is the only thing that matters. Readers will be sucked in immediately to this world when Nailer falls into an oil storage tank on one of the ships and uses his wits to escape a death his crew member left him to so she could claim the valuable oil. Nailer escapes, a “city-killer” strikes (hurricane) and he finds a washed up clipper ship with really valuable scavenge: gold, jewels….and a swank…a young girl who might bring reward. What to do? Hang on tight, readers, you are in for a ride. Oh, and I must praise LB for the stunning cover (you have to see the metallic glow in person) that showcases the glowing paint the characters use on their foreheads to see in dark places when they are scavenging on this ship. You almost think the cover will glow if you leave it in the dark!

This book couldn’t be more timely, unfortunately. With the oil spill catastrophe impacting the gulf region, this book takes on even more meaning. The descriptions of a future Orleans and Orleans II, devastated by city-killer after city-killer is almost as hard to read as the real-life coverage of a post-Katrina New Orleans.

Paolo Bacigalupi, I am a new fan. Please keep writing for teens. Teen science fiction needs you.

Lynn: I was lucky enough to be assigned this gripping book to review by the Booklist staff so click on the link above to see what I wrote. I frequently rant here (and everywhere) about the paucity of good sf written for teens so I wanted to be sure and sing the praises here of Bacigalupi and Little, Brown for this gritty, challenging book that cuts no corners. I still wish that we’d get something in the sf genre besides dystopia but this author respects his teen audience and the result is a thematically rich, layered story with intense and well realized characters as well as a setting that is so well described that I almost expect to see it on the evening news. It is a barn-burner of a plot too and simply impossible to put down once started. This is a terrific combination and will not only create new fans but should lure back those who have given up on YA sf.

I don’t know if Bacigalupi will give us more about Nailer and his world but I think he left the door ajar. The conclusion, while satisfying, provides plenty of uncertainties and I guarantee teen readers will be with me in hoping for more!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

8 Comments on "Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi"

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  1.' Brenda Kahn says:

    Wow! Another book for the list! Sounds amazing. Thanks.


  2.' Angela says:

    I loved this one SO MUCH. I started reading it only a few days after the oil leak started, where every day the bad news was increasing exponentially, which definitely upped the atmosphere of the book for me.

    This book hit all of my buttons – SF, dystopia, discussions of class, multi-ethnic cast, and female characters that hold their own against the males. I can’t wait for more from Bacigalupi, whether it’s in this same world or not.

  3.' Stewart says:

    This is easily one of the best YA novels I’ve read in several years. I almost found it not dystopian enough once the real oil started flowing.

    • I had that same reaction but I first had it when I was reading the opening about the ship breaking. I had seen a documentary on ship breaking in India and it was not a big leap from that to feel like Ship Breaker was reporting instead of imagining a future. Then the oil spill began and this book felt all the more like reality instead of dysopia! Glad the rest of you admire this book too! – Lynn

  4. Shipbreaker grabbed me from the first line and didn’t let go. I loved it!

  5.' Ms. Yingling says:

    This was one I didn’t get and didn’t like. Thanks for your critical review. I can see some of the appeal, and it’s always goo to hear what others think.

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