Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I've Just Read . . . .

Ship Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown & Co.
ISBN-10: 0316056219
ISBN-13: 978-0316056212

In a not-too-distant future, global warming and extreme weather have played havoc on the world. On America’s Gulf Coast, hurricanes have ravaged the shores several times, leaving those left behind to make their ways as best they can. Nailer, a teenage boy, finds work with a crew of ship breakers, people who break down and salvage what they can from the many oil tankers rusting away on their shores. Nailer’s job is to creep through ducts and pipes in the ships and collect any copper wire or tubing he can find.

Existence is a struggle, and apart from his lousy job, which he is lucky to have, he is saddled with a horrible father, similar to Huck Finn's, who drinks and drugs and beats Nailer for any, or no reason at all.

On the bright side, Nailer is part of a crew that he trusts, and the person he trusts most - a girl named Pima - is also his best friend. They look down on the ‘swanks’ - the rich folks - while dreaming of becoming one of them.

And then one day, after a storm, Nailer spies a ship - a new clipper ship - washed up on a nearby shore. If he and Pima can salvage it, it could be their ‘lucky strike,’ their road to something better. The trick is how to do it without anyone else - particularly Nailer’s father - from finding out about it and taking it from them.

Nailer manages to get out to explore the ship and finds a survivor - an almost dead teenage girl named Nita. His choice is to kill her and salvage the ship, or save her and risk losing the ship. He elects to save her. When word about the ship and the girl gets out, Nailer’s father comes calling. His idea is to salvage the ship and ransom Nita, who is the daughter of a rich shipping magnate.

Nailer pretends to go along with him, all the while hoping to ditch his father, and regain the girl and the ship for himself, but that’s a bit difficult to do since his father has a genetically engineered half-man/half monster named Tool watching over Nailer and Nita, and the monster has been engineered to gladly die in order to carry out its master’s wishes.

However, things change quickly when Nailer learns Nita is not the helpless, pampered rich girl he imagined, and that Tool is not a mindless tool of his father’s. Can the three of them work together to get what they each want?

* * * * *

I liked Ship Breaker for the most part. It’s an adventure story, and that’s what it relies on - the adventure. The plot is more than plausible. I didn’t have any trouble believing something like this could happen in our near future, and Bacigalupi takes the plot from beginning to end very nicely. He keeps the tension and suspense high, and there’s always a reason to turn the page. One thing I especially liked was that India and China had become the world’s new power brokers (although that’s just background, and not important to the story.)

If there are any weaknesses in the novel, for me it’s that Ship Breaker could have gone farther than it did. There are no subtleties, no nuances or shades of gray. It doesn’t raise questions. The focus here is on plot, not character, even to the extent of neglecting Nailer’s relationship with his father.

His father is bad and he doesn’t like the man, and that’s as far as it goes. We never learn if Nailer loves him or hates him or if it’s something in between. He doesn’t ask questions about the relationship that a kid in that position would ask. The relationship is what it is. Even when his father dies, there’s no gladness, no sadness, no relief, no mixed emotions. He shakes with revulsion and walks away and the story moves on. Had Bacigalupi delved into their relationship a bit more, it would have made the story a little more complex and taken it to another level, I think.

I also wished Pima had played a bigger part in the adventure. She's basically left behind once Nita appears on the scene.

On a technical note, I have to admit it was annoying to read the name Nailer over and over and over when he/his/him would have worked just as well or better.

Amazon says the book is for grades 7 and up which seemed accurate to me, although I can see this being read by kids a bit younger. Older teens may find it a bit too soft and safe when compared to Collins’ Hunger Games or Walter Dean Myers’ Monster, another Printz award winner.

All in all, it was a good read, worth the time spent on it.

Stop by Thursday for a look at the New York Times besteller, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.


Andy said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful review, Barb.

Diane Mayr said...

"On a technical note, I have to admit it was annoying to read the name Nailer over and over and over when he/his/him would have worked just as well or better." Was this true for the other characters, too? I could see where that would get annoying! Why write like that?

Barbara said...

Was it true for the other characters? Not that I noticed. But even in scenes where he was the only person present, or he was with a girl, it was Nailer this and Nailer that.

A random page - Nailer could barely breathe. He knew now that his father was mapping out the violence, planning to catch Nailer, to teach him some respect. Nailer's eyes went to the door.

I can't say why he did it. It doesn't seem like it's an intentional style thing. But, it is a first novel so . . . .


But, isn't an editor supposed to catch things like that?

I know they're all overworked and underpaid, but...

Is good writing a thing of the past?

I'm Jet . . . said...

Interesting review. Can't wait to read the next!