Ship Breaker is a young adult novel by Paolo Bacigalupi, who received great acclaim in the literary world for his debut novel, The Windup Girl. A sequel to Ship Breaker, entitled The Drowned Cities, is due for release in the spring of 2012.
Bacigalupi’s first YA novel takes place in a future that mirrors the world he created in The Windup Girl: countries as we know them today have fallen apart, genetically-manipulated people have become commonplace, and the dividing line between the rich and the poor has become immeasurably vast. Ship Breaker tells the story of Nailer, a teenage boy who works on a crew stripping the remains of ancient oil ships for valuable metal and precious resources, all the while dreaming of a better life. After a vicious tropical storm leaves the wreck of a rich girl’s clipper on the beach, he uses its owner as a means to escape his life of ship breaking, only to be caught up in a conflict between the world’s most powerful people.
A true page-turner
As far as I’m concerned, it’s practically cliché to describe a book as a page-turner. For this reason, I’m hesitant to give any novel such praise. However, I believe Ship Breaker really earns this description. Bacigalupi’s interesting characters, intriguing story, and intricately detailed setting all kept me flipping the pages, even through sections of the novel that I likely would have found tedious if written by a less talented author. I read the entire novel in one day; I was so drawn in that I simply had to continue reading. This isn’t a common thing for me: I’m a slow reader, and it’s rare for me to be so engaged by a story that I devour it all in one day. This, more than anything else, may be the greatest testament to just how incredible I believe Ship Breaker is.
Pushing the limits of YA
Ship Breaker is a YA novel in terms of length, pacing, and writing style, but the content of the story itself pushes right to the edge of adult literature. Bacigalupi’s previous novel, The Windup Girl, was heavy on adult content, and his tendency to stray toward that type of material shows in Ship Breaker. There is no lack of swearing or graphic violence in Ship Breaker, although it certainly isn’t beyond the realm that teenage readers are capable of handling. Bacigalupi is comfortable with adult content and he excels when writing it; therefore, I can’t help but wonder if Ship Breaker would have been more effective if Bacigalupi had simply written it as an adult novel, giving him the chance to fully embrace this darker content rather than resisting it as the YA category requires.
It’s difficult for me to break down exactly what works so well in Ship Breaker because everything works well. I honestly can’t praise Bacigalupi’s execution enough. His pacing is practically flawless, his writing vivid and sharp, and his setting extraordinarily believable. While not always utilized to their full potentials, Ship Breaker’s characters are all fascinating in their own ways, and the book’s climatic sequence is both visceral and emotional, capitalizing on everything that was set up beforehand to form a suitably cinematic showdown. Bacigalupi nails every aspect of this book to absolute perfection, and I simply have no other way to describe Ship Breaker.
Why should you read this book?
Simply put, Ship Breaker is a stunning novel that works on every level. Bacigalupi has a keen understanding of how to craft a vivid setting, believable characters, and an engaging plot, and he integrates these elements flawlessly into a tightly structured story. Ship Breaker is a novel that worked for me in every possible way; I have no real complaints with the book. Not only is Ship Breaker one of the best YA novels I have ever read, it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long, long while.