“Ship Breaker” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker coverPaolo Bacigalupi’s novel, The Windup Girl has been receiving a lot of press over the last couple of years, and I finally received it for my birthday this year. However, I didn’t take it with me to India, and ended up picking up his next book, Ship Breaker, a young adult book set in the future, to read on the flight back. I hesitate to call it a dystopia because we’ve only seen a small portion of the world, which is no worse than some areas of our world today.

Ship Breaker is set in the future, when oil has run out and the world has changed quite a bit. It follows the story of Nailer, a “ship breaker” that works on disassembling and scavenging valuable parts from ancient oil-tankers and other ships that have been beached near New Orleans. (It took me a long time to figure out that this book was set in the U.S., but it’s pretty clear.)  Nailer and his crew are desperately poor, and have to either work or starve – and Nailer is getting almost too big for his light crew job. He also has an abusive, drug-addicted and violent father at home (which is a shack.) He dreams of working on the big, clean clipper ships of the corporations that buy his scavenge, but that’s pretty far-fetched, considering his situation.

He has some hope for things changing when he is the first to find the wreck of a clipper – perhaps he can scavenge enough to make him rich. He does find riches, but he also finds a beautiful girl that’s barely alive. And everyone seems to be after her. Predictably, trouble ensues.

I found the worldbuilding and characters in this book really great. The little details about how the world we know has evolved into Ship Breaker‘s world are delightful, and the world itself is extremely believable. (I was also excited that there were multiple Indian characters! It’s hard enough to find one.) I didn’t care for the plot as much; it seemed almost too simplistic for such a lovingly detailed world and such well-rounded characters. The book has so many adult themes for a young adult book – abuse, drugs, loyalty, poverty, desperation, and a lot more – and they are all explored without any sugar coating or oversimplification. I guess I didn’t expect the plot to be so straightforward. However, it does bring the characters and world into more focus, and that is a good thing.

I’ll definitely be picking up the next installment in this series, The Drowned Cities. I also look forward to reading The Windup Girl even more now, now that I’ve seen what Bacigalupi can do.

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