PREVIEW: Ship Breaker’s future is dark, exciting eco-scifi

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi; published by Little, Brown, New York, publication date May 2010; 323 pages.

REVIEWER’S NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.

Nailer’s hard-scrabble life at the bottom of the food chain is day-to-day.  Today he is small enough to work scavenge on the beached ships; tomorrow, who knows?  He’s not sure of his age, his future, or his beliefs (although he’s sure to pray and make sacrifices to all of the deities his neighbors believe in).  What is he sure of?  His father’s volatile violence; the bonds of crew; and the desperate hope of becoming like Lucky Strike, finding and claiming a scavenge for himself.  A “city killer” storm drives a clipper ship into shore and Nailer discovers it with the help of Pima, his crewmate and best friend.  On board, the only survivor is a swank, Nita, they dub Lucky Girl.  Nita is heir to the northern clan that controls scavenge and shipping.  Is she Nailer’s lucky strike?  By saving her, will his future be safe, secure, and rich?

Nailer’s story is a breathtaking adventure in the dystopian world 100 years in our future.  Global warming has melted the polar ice caps.  Weather has become the biggest threat to mankind.  Society has crumbled into two groups: the haves and the have-nots.  The abject poverty of the have-nots is punctuated by their total lack of technology.  Mutant half-men (equal genetic parts tiger, dog and man) viciously and loyally guard the haves.

So much more lies between the lines of Bacigalupi’s debut YA novel.  He writes, “The book in question is Ship Breaker, a young adult novel about all of my favorite things: global warming, peak oil, genetic engineering, poverty and collapsed societies.  You know, happy fun stuff.  Fortunately, it’s also a ripping adventure.”*  While it is a dark tale of a dystopian future, it is also an engrossing adventure with a tenacious, likable protagonist.  Teens who enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire will be drawn to this tale.  Fans of Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series will enjoy looking at the world from the sea rather than the air.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 9-12+

Cover Art: The cover of the ARC is shown here.  The rusty background with the title scratched in like Nailer marked ductways in the story is intriguing but will only be understood by readers.  I think it is interesting enough to generate interest in teens.

Suggested Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

* Quoted at


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