Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Rating: 4 Stars

The Blurb: In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life…

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

This book has been on my TBR list forever, but it not what I normally read, so I hesitated to pick it up many, many times. In fact, Haven bought me a copy of this book back in January, and I just read it last month (Sorry Haven!). I went into it worried that it would be a dull, typical dystopian, but was pleasantly surprised that it was much darker, complex, and interesting than I had hoped for.

in Ship Breaker, we’re introduced into a world where resources are scarce, Antarctica has melted, cities are drowned, and strange experiments have been done on people, making them not quite people. Nailer, our main character, strips copper wire off of old, grounded oil tankers for sale to big corporations to be recycled. It’s a grim existence, and Nailer is just hoping to get lucky some day and buy his way into another life; but luckily, he gets a chance to do that when he discovers Nita, the lone survivor of a beached ship and one of the wealthy aristocrats that rule this world.

For one, let me say that Bacigalupi’s world in Ship Breaker stands out among the masses of dystopian novels in the world today. While it doesn’t stand out in extremity (I mean, not all books can be about annual tournaments where kids have to kill each other), it is one of the most realistic depictions of the future I’ve come across. Global warming, poverty, tycoon corporations, they’re all in our world today, and that realism is what makes this book chilling, but also immersive.

With a complex world, comes a plot that, for the most part, is complicated and not black-and-white as well. There are politics, natural forces, betrayals, and unclear motivations in play throughout the whole novel. This is not a light read, either. Bacigalupi has a rich and dark imagination, and the themes of this novel are explored thoroughly and completely. The plot-and the world- are the strong parts in the story, and frankly, what kept me reading.

However, while these were richly developed, where this book loses a star is in its characters. I am a character-driven reader, meaning that if the characters aren’t wonderfully complex and 3-dimensional, I lose interest. While this book does develop Nailer, Nita, and Pima’s characters well enough, I didn’t feel an emotional attachment to them, despite the extremely relatable and realistic world. All three seem to have a certain personality assigned to them, and their actions seemed dictated by the plot, not the personalities the book told me they had. This is probably why I didn’t understand a ton of Nailer’s actions, because while his personality told me one thing, his actions stated something else entirely. Nailer does go through some character growth throughout the book, but the transition from Point A to Point B is so abrupt, I found myself confused as to how he got from a selfish kid only looking out for himself to someone who’s willing to sacrifice himself for others.

What I mean above is best exampled by the romance. Nailer and Nita’s relationship was almost always described as purely business, and true to that, the book keeps the romance very minimal. However, I believe that a romance needs to build up slowly (Who likes insta-love, anyway?), and while the romance wasn’t exactly instant, it was still kind of… random. All the clues the book had left me allowed me to believe that Nailer and Nita felt nothing, really, except that Nailer thought that she was pretty. And although Nita continually lies and double crosses Nailer, there’s still a scene where the two of them kiss. Just like that. That irritated me, so I was extremely relieved when their romance took a backseat to the story.

Other side characters I felt were basically “assigned” a character trait, for example Nailer’s father, who is an abusive drug-addict and bad guy. While it is implied that there is more to these characters- that Nailer’s dad was once good- the topic isn’t developed further, and we leave the story with lingering questions.

However, despite it all, this is an immersing story and an overall good book. While not perfect, it is innovative in its own way, and that’s probably why this is an award-winning novel. I personally commend Bacigalupi on exceptional world-building, making Ship Breaker stand out among the mountains of books in the dystopian genre.



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