At its core, SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi is an adventure story. I can’t call it fast-paced.  This is a book that makes a lot of statements.  In my opinion, dealing with issues in the midst of story-telling slows down the pace of a book and I believe this is also true for SHIP BREAKER.  The world-building is a statement on environmental responsibility.  Nailer’s position on the light crew is a statement about child labor and poverty.  Nita’s evolving attitude about the laborers around her is a statement about the disconnect between the wealthy and the poor.

I must say that even though Mr. Bacigalupi uses valuable real estate in his novel to make these points, and they do slow down an otherwise heart-pounding adventure book, they also add to the richness of the story.  They increase the intellectual value in this book in a way reminiscent of Margaret Atwood or George Orwell.  If you believe that books aren’t just to entertain us–that they’re also intended to make us think– SHIP BREAKER is for you.

This book, like so many adventure stories, is driven by a series of events in which our main character finds himself in harder and harder situations.  The story question doesn’t change.  Throughout the book, the question remains What is Nailer going to do? When he’s working the light crew, aware that he’s getting too big to do his job but knowing it’s unlikely he’ll ever be big enough to work the heavy crew, what is Nailer going to do? When he finds a rich girl in a shipwrecked clipper ship with more loot than any haul he’s ever seen and the girl is the only thing standing between him and the scavenge what is Nailer going to do? When he crosses his drunk, drug-addicted father, who also happens to have a gift for violence, what is Nailer going to do? And so forth and so on until the end of the book.

Unfortunately for Nailer, there is usually a clear consequence to his choices.  If he chooses what’s best for him, it’s often at great cost to someone else.  And that, along with the ongoing threat of his father, creates the tension in this book.  It’s a brilliant set-up.

I would also like to point out that while this book isn’t completely devoid of romance, it plays such a minor role it doesn’t even deserve a mention in plot structure.  I know that’s true of most of the books I’ve deconstructed on this blog, but it’s not true of most young adult literature.  Or even adult literature.  Or television series.  Or movies.  I think it’s safe to say that people of all ages find romance (or maybe even more specifically, star-crossed lovers, unrequited romance, and love triangles) compelling enough to propel an entire plot line.  Writing a good, compelling story full of tension is harder without it.  SHIP BREAKER is one of those stories.

So, next, I’m going to looks at the writing style of SHIP BREAKER.  In writing, you often hear that each word is a choice.  Every time you build a sentence, you’re adding to your tone, solidifying your themes, and cementing your voice.  SHIP BREAKER is evidence of that.  Until then.

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