Find it at a local indie!
- Why I read it: Hardcore dystopia, haves and have-nots, eco-catastrophe
- Disclosure: Checked it out from the library, but I will be buying a hardcover copy because it's just that good.
Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.Very occasionally, there are books that I really, truly lose my head over. Books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, Lisa McMann's Wake, Dia Reeves's Bleeding Violet. Books that reimagine YA in a way it's never been done before. Books that I can't even do justice in a review because they were just. That. Good. Ship Breaker? Definitely one of those books.
Reading that list over before I start the next paragraph, I realize that every single one of those books is speculative fiction. There's a reason for that. When I think good YA, I certainly think of books like M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing and Walter Dean Myers's Monster and Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road and John Green's Looking for Alaska and lots, lots more books about Real Teens doing Real Things. It takes a lot of guts to write books like that, and they make me cry and totally blow my mind. As much as I love them, though, they will never hold the place in my heart that speculative fiction across the spectrum of urban fantasy to dystopia to hard sci-fi does, because there is nothing quite like a world where anything can happen.
Ship Breaker's world, to put it lightly, sucks. That suckiness does not refer to Mr. Bacigalupi's world-building, which is somewhere beyond the vicinity of excellent, but rather to the fact that everything has gone to hell. It has not gone to hell in the usual manner of YA dystopias, in which some elite group of people control every little aspect of their citizens' lives. It has gone to hell because that elite group of people doesn't give a crap about everyone else, and that reversal is what makes Ship Breaker chilling to the bone. You've got a bunch of people living on the beach with their own slang and rules and day-to-day lives, praying for Lucky Strikes and that they stay small so they can stay on the light crew and fill their lungs up with a bunch of crap and die young, just so they won't die younger of starvation. And then you've got the "damn swanks" on clippers. That's the other reason I love speculative fiction - because, in a world where anything can happen, we can be truly honest about our own world.
And don't even get me started on the characters. Descriptions like this one, of Moon Girl -
"Moon Girl, the shade of brown rice, whose nailshed mother had died with the last run of malaria and who worked light crew harder than anyone else because she'd seen the alternative, her ears and lips and nose decorated with scavenged steel wire that she'd driven through her flesh in the hope that no one would ever want her the way they'd wanted her mother."- broke my heart and also blew my writing mind. The prose is stark, it's as richly spiced and diverse as the characters (hardly any of whom, realistically, are white), but it also never draws attention away from the story where it belongs. Allow me a teen moment: Just. OMG. Wow.
In short, if you can only take me up on one of the recommendations I've made so far on this blog, you could do a heck of a lot worse than this one. Hands down one of the best YA novels I've read, period. Five out of five stars.