Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

There's been a lot of buzz about Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, and now I understand why. Like the recent smash hit Hunger Games series, Ship Breaker immediately launches the reader into a not-so-futuristic world where ordinary teens fight for their lives on a daily basis in unspeakable conditions of poverty and danger.

In this story, we meet Nailer, a boy who spends his days crawling around inside the rusted out hulls of tankers that have washed up on the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico in a time when rising sea levels have radically changed the landscape. With only a little phosphorous smeared on his forehead to light his way, Nailer crawls through duct work scavenging anything that might be worth a little something to the salvage company he works for. Life for Nailer and the other ship breakers is grim. His bosses are harsh, he sees little money for his dangerous work, and his alcoholic, drug-dependent father is unpredictable and cruelly violent even with his own son.

When Nailer and his friend Pima find a "swank" clipper ship washed up on a nearby beach after a hurricane, they believe they've finally found their lucky strike and that they may be able to escape the life of a ship breaker. They board the ship, hoping to strip it of as many precious metals and other treasure before the others discover it, but what they find on board has the potential to be more valuable and more dangerous than any treasure.

This is an audio book I'd highly recommend. The narrator, Joshua Swanson, is one of the best I've encountered at voicing a wide variety of characters from the lilting Caribbean voices of Pima and her mother to the growling tones of the genetically engineered half-men. I will certainly seek out his books in the future.

One of my only disappointments with this book will sound silly to some. When I finished Ship Breaker, I was happy with the way it ended and thought, "Finally. A YA author who doesn't have to turn every idea into a series." I am not a fan of sequels because they are usually letdowns, and I rarely read beyond the first book. I guess I should be happy that Bacigalupi wrapped up the story in a way that allows me to walk away satisfied (are you listening, Suzanne Collins?), but I was disappointed when I learned there will be a sequel. I'm sure most readers will be happy to be able to hear more about Nailer and his friends, but you won't find me tagging along on his next adventure. I'd rather savor this great story and move on to something else.