Ship Breaker is set in a post Global Warming dystopian future where resources are scarce and most people are left to scavenge what's left. Nailer, the main character, works as a child laborer in a ship breaking operation. He tears up apart old oil tankers, gathering old copper wiring to make quota and thus make a living, with no help from his violently drunk father.
The operation takes place in America's Gulf Coast, on the beach, where the scavenging is juxtaposed with extravagant 'clipper' ships which sail by.
After a 'city killer' of a storm rolls by, Nailer and his friend find a clipper shipwrecked and ripe for scavenge. They think it's their Lucky Strike, until they find the ship's owner, a wealthy young girl, still alive inside. For Nailer, she may well be his way to a better life, off the beach.
When he discovers the secrets that led her south he decides to help her, because how else will he get off the beach that means death to him?
The great thing about The Ship Breaker isn't its storyline - which isn't to say it isn't great - but the universe Paolo Bacigalupi creates to set it in. Unlike a lot of other YA dystopias, Ship Breaker tells of a future that isn't that unrealistic, of one that we may well be headed to. Global Warming has drowned cities, resources are all but used up. The author talks more about the setting in this video.
Nailer's point of view is also intriguing. He's young, illiterate, and doesn't know anything except for he's learnt on the beach he's always called home. The setting is described through the eyes of someone who doesn't know what it was like before crisis point.
The plot is fast-paced and never boring, but without be being overwhelming. The ending ties up the story yet still hints towards bigger problems coming.
Ship Breaker is currently released, and its sequel, The Drowned Cities, is due for release next year. I rate Ship Breaker 5 out of 5 and recommend to anyone, regardless of whether they typically like science fiction and dystopia or not.(less)