Lawral's Reviews > Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
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's review
Mar 28, 2011

bookshelves: read-but-unowned, ya, 2011

The world in which Nailer lives and works is brutal. He and his friend Pima are on light crew which means they pick light scavenge from old ships, primarily pulling copper wire from small utility ducts. This is opposed to heavy crew, where Pima's mother works pulling steel and other valuable metals from the same ships. These are the only good options in life. The only others are to become professional fighters who moonlight as security (like Nailer's dad), sell of body parts and/or fluids, or become some version of a prostitute. Basically, even though Nailer is doing dangerous and backbreaking work that almost gets him killed, he was lucky even before he survived his dip in the oil. He's also 15. Nailer's background and, really, his entire society make his decision to help Nita (the swank) more amazing. And it's that decision, so contrary to the way he's been taught to survive, that create an adventure story in the middle of a dystopian world.

I think one of the most amazing things about Ship Breaker, for me at least, is they way Bacigalupi accomplishes his world-building. This is a seriously complex world full of swanks, ship breakers, beach rats, half-men, and all the cultural implications these groups carry with them. Bacigalupi manages to explain all of this without ever sitting the reader down and explaining all of it, yet I was amazingly un-lost throughout the story. The world he builds is still our world too. Nailer lives on the Gulf Coast and takes a train that carries him over the drowned city of New Orleans. We can recognize leftovers from our day and age. It's clear that some kind of environmental fall-out has occured (in addition to a severe lack of oil and a submerged New Orleans, traders can sail right over the Arctic Circle), but the details of how we got from here to there are never explained, leaving the reader to put 2 and 2 together. No heavy-handed environmental message required (or present).

Ship Breaker is, at times, a very bleak book portraying a society in which each person is practically required to step over someone else to survive. Getting ahead is a pipe dream. But, like many other dystopian novels, its points of light that make the story. This is the kind of book that can stress you out (in a good way) while reading, and it will be a hit with your dystopia fans.

Book source: Philly Free Library

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