Ship Breaker is fantasy author Paolo Bacigalupi’s first YA novel, published this year (May 1st, 2010) by Little Brown books. Its 323 pages long.
Nailer works light crew; his job is to crawl deep into the wrecks of the ancient oil tankers that line the beach on the Atlantic Gulf Coast, scavenging copper wire and turning it over to his crew boss. But after a brutal hurricane passes over, Nailer and his friend Pima stumble upon the wreck of a wealthy clipper ship. It’s filled with valuable goods that, if stripped, could make them rich for life. There’s only one thing that stands in their way: Amid the wreckage, a girl named Nita barely lings to life. Nailer makes a split decision to save her with the hopes that she can reward them for rescuing her. But can they trust her? And on top of that, can they keep the girl safe from Nailer’s drug-addicted father? In a world where you have to not only be lucky, but smart, Nailer learns just how lucky—and smart—he really is.
I really enjoyed the first half of this book. Like any good PA or fantasy novel, the backbone of the story lies in the strength of the world in which the story is taking place, and Bacigalupi delivers. You can actually taste the rust and smell the salt in the air. The way he references modern cities and countries (for example, New Orleans, which has been destroyed but rebuilt in a different place, now known as Orleans II) made this world easy to envision, and frighteningly current. I think this quote pretty much sums it up: "No one expected Category Six hurricanes. They didn't have city killers then. The climate changed. The weather shifted. They did not anticipate well."
Anyway, my biggest problem with this book was with Nailer. Not because he wasn’t a good character, but because it was a little unsettling how he seemed to flip between personalities when interacting with Nita, the female protagonist he rescues. It’s insisted that he, above all else, values loyalty, which is scarce in this world. But throughout the second half of the novel he’s continuously snapping at her, and threatening to leave her swank (the slang word for “rich”) behind, well, behind. This attitude never made sense to me, as he was the one who originally vouched for her life and insisted on forging a blood pact with her, promising to watch her back if she watches his. Even though this promise is fulfilled, it's done with lots of complaining and second guessing. Eventually, Nailer decides that he really cares about Nita, and then everything is okay, but it takes a while for him to get to that point.
Besides that, the characters were unique with lively slang, and the bad guy, Nailer’s father, is positively frightening. There’s a bit of romance, but it never quite steps into the spotlight making it the focus of this grimy adventure. I thought this was for the best, because in between the exciting boat-chase scenes and boiler room fights there wasn’t much room for it. All-in-all, readers will be in for a fast-paced, well developed read. Was it the best PA novel I’ve read? No, not story wise. But it was a pretty darn good one with probably the best setting I’ve read to date.