The next book I’d like to take a look at is SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi.  I had intended for my next book to be something light and “candy” but there was so much buzz about this release, I was curious.  So let me warn you: this is a heavy, dark, deeply themed book.  It’s definitely for the older young adult crowd and I think it could probably even be shelved in mainstream adult fiction.  It’s also a brilliant work of literature.

If you don’t know this (and I didn’t when I started reading SHIP BREAKER) ship breaking is a real profession.  It is the process of breaking down a ship that’s reached the end of its life for the scrap metal.  Although it used to be something done primarily in the United States and Europe, after the 1980’s it was recognized as a dangerous, unhealthy, and environmentally unsound practice.  Now, it’s done primarily in parts of Asia and the Middle East by people who risk their health for pennies an hour.  The practice is particularly common in Bangladesh and if you want to read more about this, I found a couple of articles here and here.

Enter Paolo Bacigalupi, author of THE WINDUP GIRL and PUMP SIX AND OTHER STORIES.  THE WINDUP GIRL, which came out last year, was his debut novel.  It won the Nebula Award and was nominated for a Hugo.  SHIP BREAKER came out last month and is his first young adult book.  I knew within the first couple of chapters that I was going to love this book and that it was going to break my heart.  It didn’t disappoint.

It’s the story of Nailer, a teen boy who works as a ship breaker on the Gulf of Mexico in a post-global warming world.  It’s a brutal environment. Children work the “light crew”–if they’re lucky enough to get the job–where they crawl through the filthy, sometimes toxic, ductwork of beached ships, stripping them of their copper wires.  Adults work the “heavy crew” where they strip the iron sheets.  Everyone is hoping for a “lucky strike”–some lucky break that is going to rescue them from this back-breaking existence.  Nailer gets just that; he finds a high-tech clipper ship stranded on his beach.  Inside is one survivor: a beautiful rich girl who is the only thing standing between him and the fortune this scavenge could bring.

There is a fairly extensive cast of unusual characters.  Aside from Nailer, the main character, there is Pima, his crew boss and best friend.  Also, there is the wealthy girl from the stranded clipper ship, who is called both Nita and “Lucky Girl”.  Striking a beautiful contrast in parenting is Sadna, Pima’s mother, and Richard Lopez, Nailer’s father.  Sadna is strong, capable, loyal, and loving.  Richard is a violent, greedy drug addict and acts as this book’s primary antagonist.  And finally, there is Tool, the half-man.  He’s a product of the genetic splicing of human and animal DNA–something that is commonly done in this far-future world and results in vicious and loyal servants.  Tool is an anomaly, in that he has no particular loyalty to any one human.

I’m looking forward to working on SHIP BREAKER. It was a very compelling adventure story with a message about the future of humanity.  So next time, I’ll tackle the characters and setting.  See you then!