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In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.
Matt Markgraf says:
I’ve always been in love with the idea of Steampunk, but finding a decent novel in this superb sub-genre is hard. The turn-off for me is in the self-awareness of the author in the constructing of the nuanced world, where the gimmick takes over plot and character development. Paolo Bacigalupi, while hard to pronounce, is certainly a name to remember as an example of “doing it right.” I discovered Paolo with the tremendous adventure in The Windup Girl, and was drawn to his award-winning YA novel Ship Breaker.
The only thing YA about Ship Breaker is its young characters. Aside from that it’s a gritty, grimey, post-apocalyptic and almost perceptibly political adventure set on the American Gulf Coast. What struck me was the fast-paced and claustrophobic narrative. The novel begins with Nailer, the main character, climbing through the tight ventilation ducts of old ships, tearing out copper wiring and other metal with any kind of worth. Paolo doesn’t waste any time with flowery steampunk descriptions, but dives right into the dirty depths whether the reader is ready or not.
The second half of the book is where the politics regarding the catastrophic results of harvesting fossil fuels and the insurmountable division of class warfare come into the forefront. When Nailer discoveres a wrecked “swank” ship full of “riches” (things we may take for granted), and later when they struggle to get by in a very different New Orleans were memorable moments.
The character development is top notch, interactions are carefully written and the world will leave grit in your teeth. Ship Breaker is a quick read, and a substantial one.